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November 4, 2013

'This is about reducing heartache'

Governor opens first infant mortality summit

(Continued)

Just over 20 percent of mothers in Cass County reported having smoked during their pregnancies.

The decision to tackle the infant mortality rate also comes at a time when resources are declining: VanNess said state and county health department budgets, two-thirds of which are funded by the federal government, will continue to see cuts.

Miranda Spitznagle, director of the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission, said the state spends $28 million a year for health costs related to infants who’ve been born to mothers who smoke. Yet in May — as a summit attendee pointed out — the state legislature cut funding for smoking-cessation programs down to $5 million a year from the $8 million in last year’s budget.

Several summit attendees noted that access to prenatal care is especially difficult in rural areas, where the number of obstetricians are declining rapidly. Of 92 counties in Indiana, 30 have no obstetrical services.

Summit attendees also heard about the racial disparity in infant deaths in Indiana. Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said the number of black infants dying in their first year of life is almost twice the number of white infants dying. One of the fastest-growing causes she said was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: In 2011, 111 black infants died from SIDS, while 61 white infants died from SIDS.

Summit speakers included Dr. David Lakey, an Anderson native who now heads the Texas Department of State Health Services. Lakey talked about how he worked with a broad coalition of government, community, and health industry leaders to reduce his state’s high infant mortality rate.

“We have a moral obligation to confront this issue,” Lakey said.

He spoke about the challenges of designing and implementing a statewide plan to reduce infant mortality in what he called the “very conservative” state of Texas, where lawmakers slashed funding for primary healthcare for low-income women in 2009. Some of that funding, including money for family planning, was later restored as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce infant deaths in Texas.

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