The announcement by Gov. Eric Holcomb that Indiana’s infant mortality rate fell in 2019 to the lowest level in recorded state history demonstrates that the work being done statewide and in Northwest Indiana is paying dividends.
Part of the state’s effort has been more than $27 million in Safety PIN grants allocated to community partners. The Franciscan Health Foundation received a two-year $600,000 Safety PIN grant in 2018 to expand Franciscan Health’s Prenatal Assistance Program in Crown Point and launch the program in Hammond with an eye toward reducing infant mortality among rural residents of Lake and Porter counties and minority populations in northern Lake County. According to Thomas Bona, Franciscan Health Foundation grant manager for Northern Indiana, a $400,000 renewal of the grant through 2021 was the product of the program contributing to a reduction in the infant mortality rate from 9.4% to 6.6% in 2018 in the Northwestern Region (Lake/Porter).
The Prenatal Assistance Program focuses on improving perinatal health standards of care as well as ensuring families have a safe environment for their newborn. Additional services are focused directly on identifying high-risk expectant mothers, encouraging early and comprehensive prenatal care as well as providing education and care coordination to increase healthy behaviors and reduce infant mortality rates.
Danielle Crowder, Community Health Improvement Manager for Franciscan Health’s Northern Division, said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prenatal Assistance Program has continued to combat infant mortality with innovative, community-based initiatives. Expectant families are currently being provided with Mommy & Me Wellness Kits, which include educational material, prenatal vitamins, infant grooming and safety kits, maternal mental health and self-care materials and more.
In addition, the program continues to offer free perinatal classes virtually, which can be found at FranciscanHealth.org/events. Franciscan Health is also working with the Indiana State Department of Health to provide telehealth services to high-risk Lake County mothers. This pilot program provides a digital scale, digital blood pressure cuffs, fetal doppler monitors and oximeters to monitor their vitals and communicate daily, providing mental health support as well.
“Although, services may look or feel differently, the work of reducing infant mortality in Lake and Porter counties and ensuring more Indiana babies have positive outcomes continues,” Crowder said. “We are excited for our adjusted services to continue post pandemic and are hopeful we’ll be able to touch that many more lives and save that many more babies.”
Organizations working in partnership with Franciscan Health include Nurse-Family Partnerships, Mental Health America of Northwest Indiana and Women’s Care Center. The community can contribute to these efforts as well by donating to the Prenatal Assistance Program at FranciscanHealthFoundation.org. October is Diaper Insecurity Month and, while donations of diapers help, all monetary gifts to the program allow the purchase of twice as many diapers for families in need, due to discounted hospital purchase rates.
“One child dying before their first birthday is one too many,” said Rick Peltier, Executive Director of the Franciscan Health Northern Indiana Foundation. “However, our Prenatal Assistance Program Team is committed to continuing to reduce our regional infant mortality rates, which produces the most meaningful gift anyone can receive – the gift of life and a future of endless possibilities. We respect everyone’s life at Franciscan Health, especially our tiniest patients.”