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Health & Wellness

JPS Health Network Launches New Plan To Fight High Infant Death Rates

Nick Harris

Tarrant County leads Texas in the number of babies that die before their first birthday. The JPS Health Network is launching some new programs to fight that grim statistic.

For every 1,000 babies born live in Tarrant County, seven will die before their first birthday.  Officials at JPS in Fort Worth gathered in the hospital’s prayer garden Thursday to remember infants who died before reaching one year old.

Hospital Chaplain Tyrena Hallett led the traditional moment of silence. Her brief comments before heads bowed illustrated the scope of the problem.

“With the loss that we’ve had in Tarrant County since 2007, we can fill 12 small kindergarten classrooms,” Hallett told doctors, hospital administrators and others gathered at the Swati Gandhi Memorial Prayer Garden.  “I don’t know what that awakens in you.  But what it awakens in me is the urgency to do something.”

Health officials say they’re seeing higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure among expectant mothers who come to JPS, the county hospital. Those can be serious risk factors for premature birth and low birth weight – two of the top causes of infant death. The mother’s poor nutrition, substance abuse, financial stress, and delayed prenatal care are also risk factors.

Wendy Burkholder says $8-10 million in new government money is allowing JPS to increase services for low income pregnant women: including what’s called a maternal home – a place for prenatal care and a lot more.

“They need linkages into social work, and linkages into case management and resources that they might now have had,” Burkholder says.  “So, there will be enhanced wrap around services that in the past there’s been limited funding for.”

For the first time, JPS is getting state money for family planning.  Burkholder says 53% of pregnancies in Texas are unintended and the new program expects to serve more than 3,000 low income women in Tarrant County.

And dental care will be offered to low-income expectant mothers for the first time.

JPS CEO Robert Earley wants to put the infant mortality issue on the community’s radar.

“It’s an issue that so many people are not aware of,” Earley says. “We cannot turn our backs or our eyes to this issue. It’s critically important.”

There have been four infant deaths this week, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s website data:  42 in the month of August.

Tarrant County Public Health is digging deep into data to uncover reasons for the high infant death rates in its Fetal Infant Mortality Review.