Baltimore infant mortality program lauded

B'more for Healthy Babies could be national model, study says.

A Baltimore program to reduce the city's infant mortality rate was lauded in a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts as a model that can be used to save babies' lives throughout the country.

Since the B'more for Healthy Babies program launched in 2009, the city's infant mortality rate has dropped 24 percent. That year 128 babies died in Baltimore, compared with 91 in 2013, the latest figures available from the city health department. There also was a 40 percent decrease in disparity between white and black infant deaths during that time.

In praising the program, Pew cited its outreach in which coordinators visit expectant mothers at home and make follow-up visits after babies are born. They ensure mothers make doctor's appointments, get nutritional advice and are connected to parenting classes.

"They meet families where they are and not just physically, but where they are in terms of their lives and the circumstances that they face each day," said Karen Kavanaugh, the Pew project director. "There is that one consistent, trusting relationship that is built that can be very, very powerful."

The program's early results were enough for Pew to use its standards to help implement similar programs in 11 states, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. The organization also is looking to implement a similar program in Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

Before B'More for Healthy Babies, the city relied on a hodgepodge of groups that were doing home visits, but they all used different standards and there was no way to determine how well they worked.

"Not only were we not sure that the programs were working, but we couldn't compare them to each other either," said Rebecca Dineen, assistant commissioner, maternal and child health at the Baltimore City Health Department.

The programs also were only able to reach a limited number of people. About 6,000 of 10,000 births were considered high risk, but the programs could only serve 1,722 families.

From 2008 to 2009, the number of babies that died jumped from 120 to 128, causing further alarm. The deaths were due mostly to unsafe sleep practices and pre-term and underweight births.

B'more for Healthy Babies is run by the health department and the nonprofit Family League of Baltimore. A year after it was established, city officials implemented standards used by two successful federally approved programs elsewhere: Nurse Family Partnership and Healthy Families America.

There are now common standards for home visits, and the infant mortality prevention effort is more coordinated than before, Pew said.

Dineen said the program is too new to determine the longer-term effects and that the city will continue to track the outcomes, including mortality and school readiness as the kids age.

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