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Insurer's Charitable Arm Donates Money To Combat Local Infant Mortality

Feb 19, 2016

Central Ohio officials have announced a significant expansion of the effort to reduce the region's infant mortality rate.

Mike Foley has details.

A look at central Ohio’s infant mortality data offers some startling statistics. Three families lose a baby every week in Franklin County. African American babies are dying at twice the rate of white infants. CelebrateOne formed in November 2014 to address the factors that contribute high infant mortality.  The group will now expand its reach thanks to a $1.7 million-dollar grant from the United Health Foundation. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther says the grant will help train more workers to educate soon-to-be mothers and their families.

“We have the most ambitious goals in America, to reduce our infant mortality rate by 40% and cut the racial disparity in half. But this is Columbus. This is what we do when we work together and focus on children and families.  Over the next three years, this money will help support CelebrateOne’s connector core, a group of dedicated community health workers who will be our boots on the ground in this neighborhood and others with high infant mortality rates across the city. Seventy two connector core workers will educate mothers-to-be, mothers and families reaching 27,000 women every year. Core members will be critical to our work in neighborhoods by expanding the number of residents who are able to conduct outreach, building trust and by reducing barriers to care in communities at greatest risk for increased infant mortality rates.”

Tracy Davidson – UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Ohio CEO – says the grant will help connect Columbus residents to what they need to have “successful babies.”  

“And what I mean by that is babies are born too small here, they’re born too early, they’re impacted by safe sleep practice or lack-there-of. We have issues with tobacco and tobacco cessation problems, and there are racial disparities that we have talked about as a result of social and economic conditions in some of our most precious neighborhoods. But we know that together we can make a difference. Look at this crowd. It has been amazing to hear all the varieties of individuals that are contributing to this effort.”

The grant announcement brought together a bipartisan group of Ohio’s congressional delegation, including Republicans Pat Tiberi and Steve Stivers and Democrat Joyce Beatty. The United Health Foundation was formed by UnitedHealth Group, which last month announced it’s reconsidering participation in the federal health exchange program - in part because the company is losing money. A Fortune.com article noted the company has made efforts to contain membership, including increasing prices. Congresswoman Beatty says it’s important to separate the company from the foundation.

“You may have an entity that has different boards and different arms, so today is about the foundation arm and what they are able to do. I think they are two separate conversations. But I’m very pleased that their foundation arm was able to do the $1.7 million because without that, I don’t know where we’d be because government doesn’t have those dollars to put in and I think it will generate more from maybe other foundations, other companies once they see the value of what they’re doing.”

And thanks to the grant, Columbus community connectors like Dolores Dawson will begin training later this month.

“I will be going door to door helping women who are pregnant or have been pregnant, helping them with their kids and giving them all the resources and information that they need. You don’t want to see them sick. It hurts you to your heart when they’re sick. And not being able to live to see their first birthday is just tragic.”

Officials say training will last about ten weeks. The community health workers will then focus on areas that account for 42 percent of all Franklin County infant fatalities, but make up just 29 percent of the county’s births