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To Combat Infant Mortality, Franklin County Reaches Out To Homeless Women

Matt Rourke
Associated Press

Infant mortality rates in Franklin County have declined slightly in recent years, but community and health leaders say more attention to the problem could bring better outcomes, especially for black children.

On Friday, authorities are launching a new effort called Healthy Beginnings At Home, which is aimed specifically at homeless pregnant women.

“We know that a woman who experiences homelessness during her pregnancy or even a shelter stay, it can increase her likelihood of having a pre-term birth by 200 percent,” says Erika Clark Jones, executive director of CelebrateOne.

Health officials launched CelebrateOnethree years ago to focus on improving outcomes for pregnant women. Their new, two-year pilot program Healthy Beginnings at Home will work to stabilize economically stressed homeless pregnant women by connecting them with housing.

“Pre-term birth is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Franklin County,” Jones says.

Jones says black infant mortality happens more than twice as often as white infant mortality. 

In 2012, Jones says black babies in Franklin County died before their first birthday, at a rate of 15.1 deaths for every 1,000 black babies born. Today, the rate is 13.8 deaths per 1,000 babies. 

White infant mortality in Franklin County now stands at 5.8 per 1,000 babies.

Jones says that number has already surpassed the 2020 goal of six infant deaths for every 1,000 babies born.

Healthy Beginnings at Home will use a nearly $1 million grant from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, as well as support from the CareSource Foundation, KeyBank and others, for the housing stabilization program.

Through this project, Jones says CelebrateOne will provide rental subsidies and care coordination services to 50 Medicaid-eligible pregnant women who do not have stable housing nor comprehensive medical care.

The two-year study is modeled after a small pilot program called Care Homes. It helped 10 formerly homeless pregnant women who went full-term and whose babies are celebrating their one-year birthdays.

“Our aim through the Healthy Beginnings at Home program is to really look at birth outcomes of 100 women experiencing homelessness in our community and try to improve their likelihood for positive birth outcomes, healthy babies, that not only live to age one but thrive every year beyond,” says Jones.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.