Lower infant mortality rate among African Americans is focus of new pilot programs in California

(BPT) - The U.S. infant mortality rate has fallen over the last two decades, but major disparities remain — and carry serious implications for overall health. In 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that:

  • More than 22,000 babies died before the age of one.
  • That’s a rate of 5.8 infant deaths per 1,000 births for the general population.

However, in that same year, the African-American infant mortality rate was 10.97 — more than twice the rates among white, Asian and Hispanic women. That’s nearly double the overall rate.

In California, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reports that:

Black babies are more than two times more likely than white babies to die in their first year of life. The rate of preterm birth is 50 percent higher for African-American mothers than for white or Asian women.The mortality rate among African-American women during childbirth is nearly four times higher than that of white women.

Health Net, a health plan covering more than three million Californians, has established partnerships with local organizations in both South Los Angeles and Sacramento to address these issues.

Cherished Futures for Black Moms and Babies

In Los Angeles, Health Net awarded a two-year, $484,000 grant to help launch Cherished Futures for Black Moms and Babies, a program providing culturally-based training on implicit racial bias for five area hospitals — with an aim to improve birth outcomes and patient experience for African-American mothers in South Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley.

The program is part of the Communities Lifting Communities (CLC) initiative, sponsored by Health Net and the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC) in partnership with the Public Health Alliance of Southern California. The pilot initiative will unite key decision makers from local birthing hospitals, public health, health plans, community-based organizations, advocates and patients to co-design systems-change interventions at three levels: clinical, institutional and community.

Cherished Futures for Black Moms and Babies also partners with the Los Angeles County African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Initiative, a countywide effort aiming to reduce the gap in infant mortality rates between white and African-American babies by 30 percent by 2023.

“Creating meaningful and sustainable shifts to advance birth equity takes time, energy, and purposeful leadership at all levels of the health care organization,” said Susan Harrington, CLC’s executive director. “The collaborative aims to establish a solid foundation through the development of an actionable implementation plan that is designed in partnership with black women and families in the communities with the greatest needs.”

The Black Child Legacy Campaign

In 2013, a Sacramento County Blue-Ribbon Commission Report identified a 20-year trend of African-American children dying at a disproportionate rate compared to all other race groups.

In response to this trend, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors established the Steering Committee on Reduction of African-American Child Deaths. Their goal is to implement a plan to reduce African-American child deaths in four areas, including:

  • Perinatal conditions
  • Sleep-related deaths
  • Abuse and neglect

“These causes of infant mortality are largely preventable,” said Dr. Alex Chen, Chief Medical Officer at Health Net. “Creating a more responsive, culturally sensitive healthcare system, along with a community-based family support system, is key to preventing these tragic deaths.”

In conjunction with the program, Health Net awarded The Sierra Health Foundation $50,000 grant in 2017 to help launch the “Cultural Broker 95823 Partnership.” This community engagement program promotes public awareness disparities in health pregnancy and birth outcomes among African-Americans living in the Sacramento County 95823 zip code.

So far, results have been positive. A recent report from the Black Child Legacy Campaign showed a 57 percent reduction in infant sleep-related deaths between 2013 and 2017, and a 33 percent reduction in the disparity compared to other children during the same period.