SOUTH BEND — Health officials have hatched a plan to reduce St. Joseph County’s high infant mortality rate by focusing on efforts to improve the health of low-income women who face the greatest risk.
Those efforts, such as home-visit programs and educational campaigns for pregnant mothers, come as a study of 64 infant deaths in the county from 2015 through 2017 found that the poor health of mothers before pregnancy was the leading cause.
Women were interviewed and medical records were reviewed as part of the study by the St. Joseph County Health Department’s Fetal Infant Mortality Review Program. The program is led by health officials, nurses, doctors, social workers and leaders of community organizations who meet several times a year.
Resources are being devoted to the problem for a good reason: The county’s infant mortality rate — the ratio of the number of deaths in the first year of life per 1,000 live births — was 8.2 percent from 2012 through 2016. The state’s rate for that five-year period was 7.1 percent. The national rate for 2016, meanwhile, was 5.9 percent.
Premature birth and maternal complications accounted for nearly 65 percent of the county’s 64 infant deaths over…