Infant Mortality Rose in Ohio in 2015, Black Babies Continue to be at Greater Risk

The World Bank, licensed under Creative Commons
An alarming report released last week by the Ohio Department of Health showed that the infant mortality rate in Ohio rose in 2015, despite millions of dollars devoted to the cause.

Cuyahoga was among the worst-performing counties in the state, jumping from 8.1 to 10.5 infant deaths per 1,000 lives births last year. (A total of 156 babies died in Cuyahoga County before their first birthday, out of 14,843 born).

Local leaders were dismayed, but said that this year’s influx of dollars — nearly $4.5 million to fund First Year Cleveland, the city-county partnership to curb infant mortality — will help reduce those numbers. County Executive Armond Budish reiterated earlier comments that the regional infant mortality programs work, and that even though local rates are "shameful" and "unacceptable," improvements take time.

County Health Commissioner Terry Allan told the Plain Dealer that he hoped that 2015 was an aberration, “just a data point,” and not indicative of a larger trend. The efficacy of First Year Cleveland's programs won’t be known until the data is gathered in coming years.

But City Council President Kevin Kelley’s words in 2015 about the seriousness of Infant Mortality are illustrated by the state’s recent report.

“I wonder if the term 'infant mortality' isn’t too academic or too clinical,” Kelley told Scene in an interview, months before a $2.9 million grant from Ohio Medicaid was awarded to First Year Cleveland. “Maybe we should call it ‘dead baby syndrome’ or ‘our babies are dying’ syndrome, something more shocking.”

As the state report shows, though, some of our babies are much more likely to die than others. This may be the most shocking fact of all. The widening gap in infant mortality rates between white and black babies is getting increasingly dramatic.

In 2015, black babies died at nearly three times the rate of white babies. (In 2013 the white/black rates per 1,000 births were: 6.0 / 13.8. In 2014: 5.3 / 14.3. In 2015: 5.5 / 15.1).