The hospital's crucial role in taking on infant mortality

The United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates of all developed countries: Of every 1,000 babies born this year, six will die before their first birthday.

The problem runs deeper than the astonishingly high rates – a population's infant mortality rate is directly tied to the overall health and wellness of an area or community and has a strong correlation to poverty levels, socioeconomic issues, and the availability of quality health services and medical technology.

Hospitals and local health centers are on the front lines in regions where these numbers are the highest. They should strive to be partners in fostering healthy communities and in implementing evidence-based interventions and providing community-wide resources that can help address infant mortality risk factors. Hospitals are often the facilities that connect healthcare assets and resources for an entire region, in many cases in areas where infant mortality rates are highest. It is critical for hospitals to work closely with their communities to reduce infant mortality, and in turn, improve population health.

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) offers an example of how a state public health organization collaborated with community stakeholders to address risk factors related to infant mortality. TDH partnered with all 66 birthing hospitals and five non-delivery hospitals in the state, as well as the Tennessee Hospital Association, to launch a safe sleep campaign. Campaign activities included developing education for parents, modeling safe sleep practices within their hospitals and performing hospital crib audits. Over course of the campaign, the state saw a significant decline in the infant mortality rate – a 25 percent reduction between 2012 and 2014. Tennessee's efforts have proved successful and have become a model for how other states can work with local hospitals to promote strategies to help tackle infant mortality.

This collaborative approach can be adapted for other strategies proven to reduce infant mortality, including promoting access to pre and interconception care. Regular appointments allow physicians to start conversations with patients about their health and the health of their children. This also helps providers better engage at-risk populations and initiate key interventions when necessary, such as smoking cessation, weight management and chronic condition management.

Pre and interconception care, including preventative care, help to ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible and also lower preterm birth rates, thereby lowering infant mortality rates. Hospitals should lead the way in their communities to provide and promote programs that aim to reduce infant mortality. With those rates so closely tied to other population health issues, reducing infant deaths is a step in achieving the goal shared by every healthcare provider – improving the overall health of the communities in which we live.



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