Ohio University Expands Program To Reduce Infant Mortality Rates

Sue Meeks daily sees babies born to mothers who are addicted to drugs.

"If I had a dollar for every time I thought, 'I have an extra bedroom' and thought about taking someone in ...," said Meeks, manager of Ohio University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine's family navigator program.

OU's family program now can help even more babies, pregnant women and families, thanks to a grant from the Ohio Department of Health. The grant will expand the program, which provides counseling and other services to expectant or new mothers, into four southeastern Ohio counties: Pike, Scioto, Jackson and Morgan.

The expansion is part of a larger local and statewide push to help reduce factors, such as low birth weight, that lead to infant mortality. The $627,773 grant is part of an investment of $40 million in the 2018-19 state budget targeting infant mortality.

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One new family navigator will work with community groups dedicated to helping those in poverty in the four counties that are part of the expansion. Each navigator will be a registered nurse and will be trained to support and care for new or soon-to-be mothers so they're on a level playing field with mothers who don't experience poverty or addiction.

"Sometimes, if a woman doesn't come in for her appointments, it's viewed as noncompliance," Meeks said. But when expectant mothers are asked to go to a myriad of appointments, and they don't have transportation or the necessary finances, it can become too much for them, she said.

That's when a family navigator would step in, she said.

On any given day, a navigator can provide referrals for smoke cessation programs, meet with a client at a prenatal appointment or even the local McDonald's, or help a family figure out how to budget to pay utilities, Meeks said.

The goal is to support patients in a variety of ways, from providing medical care to family planning, to making sure expectant mothers have a safe place to live, she said.

Sarai Khangamwa and her husband, Chiko, walked into the Heritage College clinic in Athens on Monday to learn about safe sleep techniques.

Mrs. Khangamwa, 34, is pregnant with her second child. She is expecting a baby girl on Friday.

Both she and her husband, who are immigrants from Malawi, are students at Ohio University.

“Most of the moms we help are on Medicare or Medicaid, but since (the Khangamwas) are noncitizens, they don’t qualify for either of those,” family navigator Kristin Kerwin said.

At the end of their visit, Kerwin told Mrs. Khangamwa, “Now you have to text me when you have the baby. I’ll come visit you and make all of your appointments. And I want to see the baby, of course!”

The program's expansion into the four Appalachian counties will take place over a 15-month span that began in April. So far, three of the four family navigators have been hired and one has started seeing clients.

Infant mortality rates were used as a "jumping off point" when deciding where to expand the program, Kerwin said. In Scioto County, for instance, the infant mortality rate was 12.4 percent in 2016 — one of the highest in the state, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

Poverty, opioid addiction rates, barriers to transportation and the maternal smoking rate were also considered when choosing expansion locations.

In some isolated pockets of southeastern Ohio drug addiction is the "norm," Meeks said.

"We have seen many clients whose parents introduced them to drugs," she said. "If you have no job, or a very low paying job, no Internet, what is there to be clean for?"

The program helps them find reasons to seek help, she said.

"When the odds are stacked against these women, we help them climb over barriers," Meeks said.

 

bmeibers@dispatch.com

@BMeibers

Source : https://www.dispatch.com/news/20180624/ohio-university-expands-program-to-reduce-infant-mortality-rates

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