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Brad Byrd In-Depth: High infant mortality in Vanderburgh Co.

New statistics show that infant mortality is noticeably higher in the Evansville-Vanderburgh County area than in other parts of Indiana. The Vanderburgh County Health Department reports the county is losing about eight babies per 1,000 live births a year.

Brad Byrd talks with Registered Nurse Sophie French and Community Health Worker Tamika Goines about the high infant mortality in the area, and how families can find help.

You can get help by visiting the Vanderburgh County Health Department's website or texting "FAMILY" to 99888.

Transcript of interview:

Brad Byrd: "And welcome to In-Depth. Our most valued treasures: our children. Tonight we go deeper in a statistic that is troubling right here in the Evansville area: Infant mortality ... noticeably higher here than elsewhere. I'm joined tonight by Sophie French, a registered nurse at the Vanderburgh County Health Department. Tamika Goines, a community health worker. Sophie and Tamika, thanks for being here. It is a troubling, heartbreaking issue we have here. Let's talk about the mortality rate. First of all, exactly precisely how do we determine the infant mortality rate here in and elsewhere." 

Sophie French: "Infant mortality rate is the number of infant deaths before a child's first birthday. So, that's what we're looking at when we say that. In Vanderburgh County, we're losing about eight babies per 1,000 live births, and we have about 2,000 live births a year. So, the past years that's estimated to be about 16 deaths a year." 

Brad Byrd: "And there is a new program: Pre to 3. And Tamika, you're kind of on the front lines of all this. You're meeting families face to face, and are they begging for help, reaching out for help? And how do they reach you? And how do they become I guess an extended family?" 

Tamika Goines: "We actually receive referrals for them whether it's through their doctor's office, whether they do pregnancy tests at the Vanderburgh County Health Department, or whether it's a health fair that someone was at and they develop an interest in the program and a community worker will call them and give them more information and then at that point they will determine if they would like to be part of the program." 

Brad Byrd: "There's no socio-economic factors in this." 

Tamika Goines: "No, sir." 

Brad Byrd: "This could affect anyone, any race, not just moms but dads?" 

Tamika Goines: "Yes, sir. Foster parents, grandparents, who is the primary caretaker of that infant. As long as they are no older than 90 days old, then they can be part of the program." 

Brad Byrd: "And, Sophie, let's get to the why on this. Evansville, we have some suspicions on why this could happen, but what are the risks here for our kids?" 

Sophie French: "The things we look for as far as infant mortality are premature births and unsafe sleep. Habits can end up as a loss of an infant. Things like that. And when we are talking about those things, we really want our prenatal moms to get in for early prenatal care. The first trimester, that's extremely important." 

Brad Byrd: "But how easy is that for some reason who can not afford that?" 

Sophie French: "It can be very difficult actually, so that is something we address often. And it's not just financial for some of our families. We can usually find some way to get the care they need, and community resources, and something we call presemptive eligibility which helps them get coverage for prenatal care. But you're looking at other concerns such as transportation issues of just being able to get there, just support, and sometimes a lot of fear. So, those are some things we can help with. We're there for them. It may be we help get what they need where we can help them get resources to help cover a cab, those kinds of things." 

Brad Byrd: "And we were talking about the risk factors and the opioid crisis in Evansville and Vanderburgh County. We are seeing that on a weekly basis. And we often picture the adults involved in this, and this is a non socio-economic crisis here in the community. But the kids ... when you visit a child in a home, and this program just got underway a few months ago. But whether it be opioids, a health risk, a prenatal problem going in ... how does that touch you, Tamika, to see this?

Tamika Goines: "It's kind of sad being that the baby is the innocent one. They didn't have any control over anything as far as they were born into or the outcome of the situation their parents might have chose, so it's mostly for the kids." 

Brad Byrd: "How many families have you seen so far?" 

Tamika Goines: "So far, I say I currently have nine. But through the course of March until now, it's been about 15 to 20 families and for whatever reason they chose to not be apart of it. Some of them chose to have their babies and return back to work, so their schedules were conflicting with their hour availability for the program." 

Brad Byrd: "Sophie, did it strike you as ... were you surprise when you realized the infant mortality rate here in the Tri-State particularly in the Evansville-Vanderburgh County area is so high?" 

Sophie French: "I was surprise just because Indiana is so high nationally. And then you look at southwest Indiana, and those rates are even higher. And in Evansville, we have so many resources for families, so it was a little shocking for me when I arrived." 

Brad Byrd: "The environment for example ... the air that we breathe ... how does the health department especially a registered nurse like you ... I mean you're up against a pretty big mountain there. What do you do?" 

Sophie French: "Yes, we are. Again, we're there just to support the families and help them with good choices. And when you talk about the environment, those kinds of things, again you have premature births, so the respiratory system is under developed. Things like that could be a risk factor." 

Brad Byrd: "And this is face to face contact too. Tamika, you brought some toys tonight. And we're in an age that a lot of kids ... I don't have my cellphone with me ... but they got that cellphone and their tablet and their cone of existence. But these are toys you make but have the parents make for and with their kids. Why is that so important?" 

Tamika Goines: "Because one, it gives the parent the time to do it themselves and not be on their cellphones or watching the TV, and it's also letting them know you don't have to spend a lot of money to buy the toys for your babies. This is just a medicine bottle." 

Brad Byrd: "That's a rattle." 

Tamika Goines: "Yes, it's a rattle." 

Brad Byrd: "Colorful." 

Tamika Goines: "This is a microphone. So, if you have someone who wants ..." 

Brad Byrd: "To jam?" 

Tamika Goines: "To Michael Jackson, they have their own microphone they can make, and it's just as good as the toys they might spend 20 or 30 dollars on the store they're going to throw into the toybox." 

Brad Byrd: "Alright, well, continued success. And I know that this program is going in its infancy, pardon the pun there. But if you need help, you can go to your Vanderburgh County Health Department website, and also there is a text. Now, I don't have it up on the screen, so give me that text." 

Sophie French: "The easiest way to contact us is just text 'FAMILY' to 99888." 

Brad Byrd: "'FAMILY' to 9988. Is that correct?" 

Sophie French: "888." 

Brad Byrd: "Three 8's. 99888. Alright, Sophie French and Tamika Goines, thank you for joining us tonight and talking about a very important issue right here in our home area. Thank you so much."

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(This story was originally published May 15, 2018)

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