Health experts hope to drive Michigan infant mortality below the national average

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By ZARIA PHILLIPS
Capital News Service

LANSING — State officials plan to soon launch a new strategy help lower the number of Michigan babies who die before the age of 1.  

“We’ve been working on this since the ‘70s, but we’ve found new ways to address these problems,” said Ninah Sasy, a senior maternal child health strategist for the state’s Mother Infant Health and Equity Improvement Plan (MIHIP).

Michigan’s infant mortality is 6.5 per every 1,000 births, according to the United Health Foundation. That ranks 33rd in the nation. The national average is 5.9. New Hampshire’s rate is best with 3.9 deaths for every 1,000 births.  Mississippi ranks last with 8.9 deaths for every 1,000 births.

There are also large differences among ethnic groups in Michigan. Asian infants die at a rate of 4.6 per every 1,000 live births. For white infants it’s 5.2, for Hispanic infants it’s 7.0 and for Native American and multiracial infants it’s 7.5. African Americans have the highest infant death rate in the state at 13.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder signed off on the plan to reduce the deaths of infants younger than age 1 just before he left office. The Mother-Infant Improvement Plan was created to reduce preventable health problems in mothers and children.  

“We’ve learned significantly in the last 10 years that the Mother’s health greatly affects the survival of the baby, and the data supports that,”  Sasy said.

Among the strategies is to collaborate with transportation providers to get women and children to health appointments, she said. The plan also encourages the collaboration of infant care and maternity care specialists to encourage breastfeeding and prenatal health classes.  And it encourages better access to education to prevent sleep-caused deaths in infants from incorrect nighttime care.

“Access to health care is a huge issue for rural and urban areas as well,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kid’s Count project director for the Michigan League of Public Policy and who helped create the plan. “Income plays a heavy role in the well being of the mother and child.

“Maybe they live in an area that is not very safe so there’s high stress or they don’t have access to nutritional meals. We’re seeing a rise in infant deaths in the Latinx community so we really need to look at the social determinants of health issues- sources of stress, food access, transportation access, and solve those,”Warren said.

The goal is lofty.

“There’s a vision of zero preventable deaths and zero health disparities,” said Lynn Sutfin, the public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The strategy advocates that infant and maternity care professionals work more closely and offer more home visiting programs.

There are three focus areas:

  • Level ethnic disparities through tailored intervention to commonly occurring and preexisting diseases and conditions like high blood pressure or genetic diseases.
  • Address the primary causes of maternal deaths such as emergency C-sections, attention to preexisting conditions, birth emergencies.
  • Address the primary cause of infant death- premature birth and sleep-related deaths caused by parents or caregivers accidentally suffocating a child sleeping alongside them or incorrect placement of babies in their cribs.

While it’s a state plan, health officials say the key to success is forming local partnerships.

“We can’t improve health outcomes unless everyone is on the same page,” Sasy said. So that includes the fire department, who are often first responders, and transportation services because people in rural areas may have issues getting to health appointments.”  

Community partners are as diverse as  War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, St. Francis Hospital in Ludington, Henry Ford  Hospital in Detroit and CEOs from hospitals across the state, she said

Regional health groups have already helped inform the creation of the plan by holding town hall meetings across the state.

More than 500 partners will meet March 12  in East Lansing to plan how to meet the strategy’s goals.