Funding awarded to help reduce infant mortality

ATHENS – The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has awarded $627,773 to the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine to replicate its Family Navigator program to help reduce infant mortality in Scioto, Pike, Jackson and Morgan counties.

In Scioto County, a new family navigator funded by the program will work with the Community Action Organization of Scioto County. Executive Director Steve Sturgill says the agency is proud to have been chosen to participate. “We hope our inclusion in this pilot project is the beginning of a long-term relationship,” Sturgill says. “CAO of Scioto County serves hundreds of young pregnant mothers and newborns every year through our Head Start and WIC program services. The additional services provided through the navigator program will be a benefit to our families and most of all, our babies.”

The ODH funding is part of an investment of almost $40 million in the 2018-19 state budget to address infant mortality across Ohio.

“Ohio continues to build upon a comprehensive range of initiatives tackling the leading causes of infant mortality and focusing resources in communities where the needs are greatest,” says ODH Director Lance Himes. “We are investing in local, community-based programs like the Heritage College Family Navigator program to help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays.”

Heritage College Executive Dean and Ohio University Chief Medical Affairs Officer Ken Johnson, D.O., says the college’s Family Navigator program “has helped hundreds of women in southeast Ohio have healthier pregnancies, many of whom would not have gotten the medical care they needed without this program. This model works, and its expansion into our neighbor counties is going to be a great benefit for at-risk moms and their babies.”

With the ODH grant funding, one new family navigator will be placed in each of the four designated counties and trained using the model of patient navigation used by the Heritage College program in Athens County during the past six years. These navigators will work in, or in close partnership with, community action agencies in each county. They will serve Medicaid-eligible high-risk pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 42, who face health disparities and risk factors that may hurt their chances of having a healthy birth outcome.

Like Athens County, the other four counties suffer from high rates of premature births and low birth weights, attributed in part to factors such as poverty, food insecurity, reduced access to health care, and use of tobacco and other drugs by pregnant moms. The Family Navigator program, staffed by specially trained nurse navigators, helps expectant moms overcome barriers to a healthy birth, whether those are financial, medical, psychological or due to factors such as domestic violence or lack of transportation.

“Since 2012, the Family Navigator program has improved birth outcomes here in Athens County, resulting in healthier moms and babies,” says Sherri Oliver, M.P.A., executive director of the Heritage College Community Health Programs and Area Health Education Center. “Through these new partnerships with community action agencies in Pike, Scioto, Jackson and Morgan counties, we will expand this model and work toward successful outcomes in those counties as well.”

This project is one of three Infant Vitality Community Intensive Pilot Projects being funded statewide by the ODH Bureau of Maternal, Child and Family Health, as part of its push to improve birth outcomes and reduce infant mortality.