By MATT KOESTERS
With 7.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, Indiana now trails 43 states in infant mortality rate, based on 2011 statistics. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence addressed the numbers at a press conference Nov. 1, calling the number “deplorable.” But without help from Clark and Floyd counties, the number would have been worse.
Floyd County has the lowest infant mortality rate in the state at 4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Clark County is next, with 4.6 per 1,000. The nationwide average is 6.05 per 1,000.
Statistics can be deceiving, but there are a number of factors at work in Southern Indiana that are keeping infant mortality rates low here, said Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris.
“It’s not just a fluke that we’re doing better, and we’re consistently doing better,” Harris said. “But you can explain some things just through demographics.”
Clark and Floyd counties both have small African-American populations, and African-American women are twice as likely as other races to give birth to babies with low birth weight, Harris said.
The populations of Floyd and Clark counties have some other things going for them, Harris said.
“The other thing is that we’ve had a functional maternal child health clinic here since the late-70s up until this year, and I think that’s been helpful as well,” Harris said. “The OBGYN level of care is good in this area. If you look at the demographics, it’s a better-educated county than some. If you look in terms of high school graduates, that helps a lot. It’s a polyfactoral thing.”
Smoking during pregnancy is a major contributor to low birth weight, but that’s an uncommon problem in this area, according to a statement issued by Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services.
“Floyd County residents have a low incidence of mothers who smoke,” according to the statement.
“If you look at all mothers, smoking mothers have smaller babies, and smaller babies are the ones that get into trouble,” Harris said. “So as smoking rates go down, you’ll see infant mortality rates go down.”
Additionally, Floyd Memorial is working in collaboration with the March of Dimes to eliminate unnecessary 39-week elective deliveries, according to the statement.
“We are fortunate to have high-caliber obstetricians practicing at Floyd Memorial Birthing Center, as well as pediatricians, and only 2 percent of our total births have needed specialized care that required transfer to another facility,” according to the statement.
Clark Memorial Hospital’s public relations staff did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
The health departments in Clark and Floyd counties lost grant funding from the state health department this year, and the care is being transitioned to Family Health Centers. Clark County Health Department Administrator Mike Meyer believes that the quality of care will be maintained through the partnership.
“The opportunities are still there for the women to get into care, and it’s just a matter of keeping care coordination and making our other partners in the community aware that the services are available, and anytime they’re doing outreach into these populations that have a hard time accessing care to keep stressing that we do have that service available,” Meyer said.
Clark and Floyd counties, along with Harrison County, which is third in the state with 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, have another thing in common: proximity to Louisville and its hospitals.
“Certainly, if a kid was born and was having problems, they can get some excellent care over there, so that could affect it,” Meyer said. “I don’t know if there’s any real hard data to be able to track. I’ve never seen that. But you would certainly think that access to care would always help the situation.”
“That certainly is helpful, but if you look at the high-level nurseries, they’re spread across the country, and there are very few infants born that need a level-one neonatal facility that don’t get there,” Harris said. “The fact that we’re fairly close is beneficial, but whether that’s really driving the mortality rate, I don’t think that’s a major factor.”