Teamwork Between State and Health Providers Reversing Infant Mortality Trend

Innovative health programming and collaboration between providers and state and local government is starting to make a difference in reversing Indiana’s high rates of infant mortality. And Franciscan Health is doing its part. 

Consistent with its extensive Community Improvement Strategic Plan, Franciscan’s Prenatal Assistance Program helps provide access to an extensive variety of free prenatal care and education in communities where infant mortality among minority populations is particularly high. These efforts, for the first time, have lowered the rate of infant mortality in at-risk populations. The decrease is marginal, but officials believe it may be the start of a trend of continued improvement in health services for pregnant moms and their babies.

Supported in part by the Franciscan Health Foundation’s Prenatal Assistance Program Fund and “Safety Pin” dollars from the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), the Northern Indiana initiative links patients to available prenatal services – medical care; pregnancy education; counseling; peer support; and enhanced access to public assistance programs, community services and local hospital programming – for expectant mothers with limited income. The program has been serving northern Indiana for 20 years, and its reach has expanded to include Lake, Porter, Newton, Jasper and LaPorte counties.

“In a region that has infant mortality rates higher than state and national averages, our multi-disciplinary approach has helped reduce mortality in the communities we serve,” says Danielle Crowder, manager, Community Health Improvement, Northern Indiana/South Suburban Chicago. “Moms in our program learn all about pre-natal care, labor and delivery, breastfeeding, car seat safety and CPR. They receive clinical support and education, access to case workers to help them access community programs, and the opportunity to work with a clinical therapist to look after their mental health.”

Franciscan’s innovative programming extends to first responders in OB deserts (areas deemed lacking in obstetrics care). Educators help prepare EMS personnel for unusual circumstances when transporting high-risk mothers or infants.

Efforts to heighten awareness and prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) at hospital Labor and Delivery departments focus on safe sleep education while providing free cribettes, fitted sheets and education materials.

Crowder adds that the State of Indiana’s heightened effort to build awareness of the infant mortality problem, and to collaborate with health providers to improve access to essential health services, has been important. Many of the referrals received through the Franciscan program came from the state’s OB navigator program, “My Healthy Baby.” Mothers in the Franciscan service area who sign up for Medicaid through the state get referred to the Prenatal Assistance Program. The state’s goal is to have the lowest infant mortality in the Midwest by 2024. 

Since 2018, 941 pregnant women have been referred to an OB/GYN in the Franciscan Health Network and 155 children were referred to pediatricians. Franciscan Labor and Delivery departments served 2,838 women and 466 infants referred though the Prenatal Assistance initiative. The numbers increase as Franciscan expands services to new areas of need within its service area.

“We have a long way to go, but we are making progress,” Crowder says. “Our focus on infant and mother, and collaborating with the state, has improved the outlook for minority mothers and their babies.”