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IRHA secures $4.5 million grant to combat high rate of infant mortality in four counties in southern Indiana

April 29, 2019

Program seeks to improve health outcomes for mothers and their babies, and positively impact family health. Data-driven services will help create model for enhanced perinatal care (EPC) and spectrum of services to mothers, infants and families in the four counties and beyond.

LINTON, Indiana – Battling a local infant mortality rate (IMR) that exceeds the national average by some 150 percent, medical professionals, hospitals, clinics and trained facilitators in Daviess, Dubois, Greene and Martin counties will now “collaborate closely together” to aggressively reduce the local IMR rate and increase overall infant and family health, according to Don Kelso, executive director of the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA).

These four counties have a combined infant mortality rate of nine deaths per 1,000 live births (as measured 2013-2015), one of highest rates in Indiana. Uniquely, rural Martin County (like several other counties in Indiana) has no obstetricians and no dedicated labor and delivery medical facilities. Expecting mothers there are referred to facilities in Daviess and Dubois where these services are available. Ironically, Daviess County stands out with 10.79 deaths per 1,000 live births, which places it among communities with the highest IMR in Indiana, and indeed the nation, despite appropriate services being available in this specific county.

Through the $4.5 million grant program from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded to IRHA, over the next five years the new “Healthy Start Communities that Care” (HSCC) program will provide confidential screening, support, referrals, treatment, and education for expectant mothers, infants and families, said Joanah R. Wischmeier, the new IRHA project director for the HSCC program.

The HSCC program will include all pregnant and interconception women (mothers who have already given birth and are considering becoming pregnant again) in the four counties who are identified as at-risk or high-risk for poor perinatal outcomes and have already been identified as having a high-risk pregnancy. (Perinatal refers to the time – usually a number of weeks – immediately before and after birth).

To confidentially serve these mothers, babies, and families, five new onsite medical professionals will be trained and employed full-time through IRHA grant funding at hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices in the four contiguous counties.

“A variety of socio-demographic, cultural and economic issues – combined with high-risk factors like chronic disease, obesity and behaviors like smoking – contribute to these high rates of infant mortality in these rural areas,” explained Wischmeier, a Registered Nurse (RN) and dual-certified health coach, through The Cooper Institute and American Council on Exercise (ACE). “There exists a strategic gap in available prenatal through infant-related services across these rural districts, which we plan to bridge for mothers, infants and families in these areas and beyond.”

“This new Healthy Start Communities that Care program is in direct alignment with the statewide infant mortality reduction initiative championed by Dr. Kristina Box,” said Kelso, referencing the long-time OB-GYN physician who was appointed as Indiana’s State Health Commissioner by Gov. Eric Holcomb. “Synergy with these efforts will help reduce the infant mortality rates in these four counties and elsewhere, while elevating the general level of care available to expecting mothers, infants and their families.”

Wischmeier noted that in addition to providing improved levels of available care in the four counties, the program will also work to address unique demographics, socioeconomic factors, as well as cultural factors that may be contributing to infant deaths and poor outcomes.

“Poverty, level of education, lack of transportation, poor food security and lack of sound nutrition all contribute to infant mortality,” she explained. “Our new perinatal navigators and community health workers will have the capacity to help mothers, families and others improve these situations.”

Tough issues like self-care and challenging emotional states where the mother (or the family) may not have planned or intended for the pregnancy will be among those addressed in the HSCC program. “Through confidential screening, assessment, collaboration, treatment options and education we have good expectations that HSCC can make a difference,” Wischmeier continued.

“Infant mortality and related issues represent difficult challenges because of their complexity and many contributing factors,” said Kelso, a former hospital chief executive. “We are pleased to have a professional of Joanah Wischmeier’s caliber – especially with her medical credentials and her deep experience in corporate health and community outreach – to be leading this effort with other IRHA professionals.”

“This new HSCC program is unique from prior grants in that it is significantly data-driven,” continued Kelso. “This portends well for extending these proven services through the four counties to be served by the grant and beyond.”

The HSCC program is funded through a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant made available to the Indiana Rural Health Association. HRSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

About the Indiana Rural Health Association

The Indiana Rural Health Association was organized in 1997 and is a nonprofit organization working to enhance the health and well-being of rural populations in Indiana through leadership, education, advocacy, collaboration, and resource development. The strength of the organization is through the present diverse membership and the founding organizers who are committed to impacting the health of citizens through the identification of rural health issues and through advocacy roles in both the public and private sectors. IRHA membership is made up of 3,300 diverse individuals and organizations, making it the largest state rural health association in the nation, and a nationally recognized leader in rural health care. For more information, visit www.indianaruralhealth.org

Contact: Joanah Wischmeier (812) 478-3919 ext. 245, email: jwischmeier@indianarha.org

Don Kelso (812) 478-3919 e-mail: dkelso@indianarha.org

Michael Snyder (317) 805-4870 e-mail: msnyder@themekgroup.com Cell – 317-709-3560

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