By JASMINE WATTS
Capital News Service
LANSING— Although infant mortality rates have decreased in Michigan, rates are rising for members of some ethnic groups and in some locations.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ 2016-19 Michigan Infant Mortality Reduction Plan showed that 13.8 percent of African-American babies and 7 percent of Hispanic babies were born underweight compared to 7 percent of white babies. Overall, the proportion of infants born underweight has remained constant at 8.4 percent between 2004 and 2013.
In 2013, five of every 1,000 white babies and 10 of every 1,000 Hispanic babies died before their first birthday. The rate for African-American babies was higher — 13 of every 1,000, the department reported.
Historically, the Hispanic infant mortality rate has been at or below the white rate, but recently it surpassed the rate among white infants. And that trend concerns health professionals.
“Health disparities based on income and ethnicity continue to exist because of structural barriers that have reduced opportunity for good health and well-being,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count director for the Michigan League for Public Policy, a Lansing-based advocacy and research organization.
According to the league, low-income women are more likely to experience malnutrition and chronic health problems, creating a higher chance of delivering low birthweight babies, the leading cause of infant mortality.
“About 30 percent of women in Michigan have les-than-adequate prenatal care access,” said Warren. “Moms should have early and ongoing access to prenatal care. And barriers such as cost and transportation should be eliminated.”
She said over the last few years, a number of Michigan hospitals have closed obstetric units due to low Medicaid reimbursement. Now, 33 counties including Alcona, Allegan, Benzie, Cheboygan, Gladwin, Ionia, Lake, Leelanau, Montmorency, Oceana and Mackinac don’t have hospital obstetric units.
Allegan County’s obstetric unit closed in 2008 making it hard to collect data about infant mortality, said Angelique Joynes, health officer for the Allegan County Health Department.
“Since patients have to go to other counties, we don’t know how many women are being provided service. Our county is surrounded by many other counties that have birthing hospitals,” Joynes said.
One of the league’s concerns is that 18 of the 45 counties with sufficient data had an increase in the rate of infant deaths from 2004–06 to 2011–213, including Cheboygan, Otsego and Presque Isle counties. Both the number and rate nearly doubled, said Alex Rossman, communications director for the league.
Health and Human Services outlined strategies to reduce the infant mortality rate in its Infant Mortality Reduction Plan. Its goals include focusing resources to improve health in groups that have historically experienced poor health.
“The Michigan Infant Mortality Reduction Plan provides important guidance for policy and health leaders in the state to ensure we keep Michigan moving in the right direction,” said Susan Moran, the department’s deputy director for population health and community services.
“Creating an environment for healthy babies, an environment in which more babies thrive and celebrate their first birthday, is a goal of public health here in Michigan and across the country,” Moran said.
Although progress has been made, Michigan’s infant mortality rate remains high and is above the national average, Rossman said.
According to the league, the national rate is 5.96 deaths per 1,000 live births, while Michigan’s is 7 deaths per 1,000 live births.
By JASMINE WATTS