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Healthy Start gets $5 million to help 2,000 more families


Baltimore's Healthy Start program, which works with pregnant women to reduce the infant mortality rate, is expanding its program with the help of a $5 million annual federal grant that should help counsel about 2,000 families a year.

Thomas P. Coyle, executive director of Healthy Start, said the money will allow his program to expand from the Sandtown-Winchester community in West Baltimore to two other poor neighborhoods -- Harlem Park in West Baltimore and Middle East in East Baltimore.

The program, which has been in operation for three years, counsels pregnant women on substance abuse, prenatal care, nutrition and child care, said Mr. Coyle, who is also an assistant city health commissioner.

Mr. Coyle said he hopes the expanded program can reduce the infant mortality rate by 50 percent. Currently, he said, the infant mortality rate in these communities is "very high": 20 deaths within the first year of life for every 1,000 babies born in the three neighborhoods targeted by the program.

The city's general infant mortality rate is 16.6 deaths for every 1,000 births. The national average is 10 deaths for every 1,000 births.

With the new federal grant, said Mr. Coyle, the program has been able to expand its staff from 20 to 70 people, many hired from the neighborhood they will serve.

He said the program's goal is to serve 600 to 700 families a year at each of the three neighborhood centers.

The workers will go door-to-door looking for pregnant women and women with children under a year old.

"It's an extremely comprehensive program. We meet their emergency needs first," said Mr. Coyle, explaining that the staff would, for example, help a woman about to be evicted or living with other families first find a place to live.

Then Healthy Start workers hope to get pregnant women "to change their lifestyle" by making sure the women get prenatal care and attend group sessions about substance abuse, if necessary, as well as parenting and breast-feeding classes.

Mr. Coyle said Healthy Start will also begin family-planning clinics and help upgrade local medical clinics where families go for health care.

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