Continuing The Fight Against Infant Mortality
A Guest Column by State Senator Scott Oelslager
October 06, 2016
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Ohio is home to a troubling and tragic statistic. We rank 45th in the nation in terms of the number of our babies that survive to their first birthday. This is our infant mortality rate, the number of deaths of children under one year of age per 1,000 births, and it shocks many of us. What’s even more shocking is that our African-American babies die at nearly triple the rate of white babies. This statistic and its racial disparity demand a concerted effort to change a healthcare system that is failing too many families, especially in minority communities. Why are our babies dying before they even take their first step or say their first word?
Our state is blessed with some of the world’s best healthcare, medical experts and facilities, but despite this we still have horrible outcomes as it relates to infant mortality. We are program rich, but we are not successfully helping those most vulnerable among us, and something clearly needs to change. This is why the Senate is working closely with Ohio’s medical community, government agencies and community leaders to fight this public health epidemic.
Last month we took another step forward in this battle with the passage of Senate Bill 332. This legislation reflects the important work of Ohio’s Commission on Infant Mortality, chaired by my Senate colleague Shannon Jones, which was tasked with taking inventory of the state’s response to infant mortality and making recommendations for future steps our state can take. The Commission identified several critical needs: that Ohio improve the collection and sharing of data as it relates to infant deaths, make reforms in how we deliver health care services, and perhaps most importantly, investigate the social determinants of health or why some mothers and babies are more at risk than others.

We learned for example that at-risk mothers often do not take advantage of the health and social services available to them, sometimes because of lack of awareness, lack of transportation or fear of a social stigma. The Commission found that one critical way to effectively deliver care is to designate and empower neighborhood leaders in those communities who can connect their pregnant or new mother friends with the resources they need. These neighborhood healthcare workers can be armed with information and resources that could save a child’s life, such as safe sleep educational materials and transportation to medical care. SB 332 expands the opportunity for hot-spot communities to establish qualified community HUBs to provide women with these resources. By reaching Ohioans at a very grassroots level, we have the opportunity to help more babies celebrate their first birthdays and help more women be successful mothers and caregivers.
October marks Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness month, and Senate Bill 332 also contains many healthcare systems improvements as it relates to best practices for safe sleep, smoking and birth spacing. Sleep-related deaths account for 15% of all infant deaths in Ohio and in SB 332, we increased the accountability for hospitals and birthing centers to provide safe sleep education for new mothers, including helping them obtain an approved crib at no cost if necessary.

Our mothers, babies and communities deserve far better health outcomes than they are seeing today. Taxpayers deserve a better return on their investment in health. I’m proud to join my colleagues here in the Senate to make the changes needed to help more babies celebrate their first birthdays. Implementing real change takes a great deal of effort and commitment and we still have a long battle ahead, but I’m confident that the steps we’re taking today to lower Ohio’s infant mortality rate will begin changing a glaring statistic in Ohio. Together we will save lives and give our families an opportunity to not only survive but also thrive.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions on this issue, and you can contact me by phone at (614) 466-0626 or by e-mail at

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