"The improvement for white babies has widened an already shocking gap in the odds of survival for the county's smallest residents," wrote the Plain Dealer's
Brie Zeltner, in her account of the data
after a First Year Cleveland meeting yesterday. "For every white baby that died before reaching a first birthday in Cuyahoga County last year, more than six black babies died, nearly double the gap in previous years."
Last year, when black babies were thought to be dying at only three times the rate of their white counterparts, Christin Farmer, who founded the nonprofit Birthing Beautiful Communities, said,"I don't know if you want to use the term 'appalling' or just 'ridiculous.'"
Now, black babies are dying at six times the rate of white babies.
The First Year Cleveland folks seem appropriately shook by this trend. Director Bernadette Kerrigan said she and her staff "[would] not sleep at night" until the disparity is addressed.
Addressing racial disparities in infant mortality, after all, has been a key part of First Year Cleveland's mission from the beginning, awkwardly appended to its mission statement: "First Year Cleveland is mobilizing the community through partnerships and a unified strategy to reduce infant deaths including racial disparities" [sic].
In the first year of First Year Cleveland's three-year strategic plan (2017-2020): the stated goal on the racial disparities front was to "focus on gauging a better understanding of the roles that race and maternal stress play in infant deaths." The goal for year three: "Advance R&D efforts to better understand issues impacting high rates of African American infant deaths and work to ensure that the issue of race is never overlooked in either policy or distribution of funds."
New funds are forthcoming. The Ohio Department of Health announced yesterday, per Zeltner, that it'd be contributing $600,000 in Federal Funds to Cuyahoga County's Help Me Grow partners and MetroHealth's Nurse Family Partnership. The money is intended to increase home visiting services available for pregnant women.
But something Christin Farmer told Scene last year
now rings truer than ever: "In the black community, we often have to resort to our own organizations and circles, so that we can ensure that we get the care that we're most comfortable with," she said.
Incomplete data on Cuyahoga County's infant deaths in 2017 paint — once again — a grim and alarming picture. While the overall rate of infant mortality fell slightly (eight percent) last year, the racial gap widened significantly. The rate of white infant deaths declined by 45 percent, but the rate of black infant deaths increased.