A recent grant will pump $4.5 million into combating infant mortality in Dubois and surrounding counties.

The grant is part of a statewide effort headed by the governor’s office to reduce infant mortality in Indiana and comes from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration through the Indiana Rural Health Association and will aid efforts to reduce infant mortality in Dubois, Daviess, Greene and Martin counties. Together, the four counties have an infant mortality rate 150% above the national average, according to a press release from the IRHA.

Dubois County alone saw an average of 8.5 infant deaths from 2013 to 2017, according to Indiana.gov.

Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center will oversee the grant funds in Dubois County.

“As a regional health care leader, Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center viewed this as an opportunity to improve the health and outcomes of our mothers and babies in our region,” said Patty Scherle, director of Women and Infant Services at Memorial Hospital.

Several factors contribute to the area’s high infant mortality rate, including health issues such as obesity and smoking, and economic issues such as food insecurity, education level and poverty, the IRHA press release said.

In Dubois County, Scherle said the top three causes of infant mortality are maternal pregnancy complications, congenital factors and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID and SIDS).

As one of two hospitals in the four counties — the other is Daviess Community Hospital in Washington — Memorial Hospital provides perinatal care to mothers and infants from Dubois and several surrounding counties, including Pike, Martin, Spencer, Daviess, Orange, Perry and Crawford. That long reach makes Memorial Hospital a key player in reducing the area’s infant mortality rate.

Over the next five years, the grant will help local medical professionals implement the Healthy Start Communities that Care program to provide confidential screening, support, referrals, treatment and education for expectant mothers, infants and families in the area. This will be accomplished through five new on-site medical professionals employed as perinatal navigators at hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices in the area. At Memorial Hospital, nurse Kelsey Brinson will take on the perinatal navigator roll.

The perinatal navigators will work with mothers and families designated as high risk to ensure a successful birth and that the baby stays healthy through the first 18 months of life.

“The goal is to offer a program for mothers to receive pre-natal care, education, support, and resources during pregnancy and through the first 18 months of the child’s life,” Scherle said. “Having a baby is a wonderful time in a mother’s life, and we want to make sure we take care of them from the very beginning.”

The additional programs offered through the grant will join several classes Memorial Hospital already offers for new and expectant parents such as the Baby & Me – Tobacco Free Program that helps expectant mothers quit smoking, a Check-In Time breastfeeding support group and several free maternity classes. A calendar of classes can be found on the hospital’s website at www.mhhcc.org.
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