Last Thursday, State Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) and the Ohio Department of Medicaid held a forum with community members and activists to discuss ways to reduce the state’s high infant mortality rate. Attendees included nonprofits, faith-based organizations, all local hospital systems, and all five managed care organizations. State lawmakers set aside $13 million in the recent state budget to address infant mortality in Ohio, including a number of hotspots in the Akron area.

“Curbing infant mortality needs to be a top priority in Ohio,” said Sykes “By bringing healthcare experts, community members, and faith leaders together, we are better able to understand and remove the barriers women and families face that lead to higher instances of infant mortality.”

State budget funding will go to areas in the state with disproportionately high rates of infant mortality. Akron zip codes 44320 and 44307 have some of the highest rates in the state and were chosen as the first areas to receive state funds. In addition to combatting infant mortality, the health initiatives receiving state funds are expected to help bring jobs to the Akron area as well.

“Ultimately, infant mortality is a community issue that requires community solutions,” added Sykes. “With infant mortality rates higher than the national average for over a decade and rates for black babies twice that for white babies, our approach needed to change. With the Department of Medicaid and community partners working hand-in-hand, we can begin to make major strides in our continued fight.” 

Ohio’s rate of 7.7 per 1,000 births remains far above the national average of 6.1. The infant mortality rate for African American babies is 14.0—more than twice the rate for white babies. Ohio currently ranks 47th in the nation in overall infant mortality, and last in African American infant mortality.

“As the ranking member of the Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, I was involved in all of the deliberations on the budget for the Department of Medicaid,” Sykes said. “Infant mortality was an issue I advocated for repeatedly, so I was very glad we were able to set aside funding to address the issue – and not just to talk about it. I am also pleased that the community will be able to provide input on the best ways to address the problem.”

Funding for these initiatives will be appropriated in the fall, with the expectation that those hired will begin work by the end of the year. Details of the funding will be finalized in additional meetings later this summer. 

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