GARY | Indiana ranks 45th in the country when it comes to babies living to see their first birthday.
The infant mortality rate is determined by the number of babies who die before turning 1 year old.
Indiana recorded 7.68 infant deaths per 1,000 births in 2011, compared to 6.05 nationally. Preliminary recent data show a slight decrease in state figures, Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. William VanNess said.
"Indiana has only been below seven infant deaths once in 113 years," he said. "It was 6.945 in 2008."
The statistics are so glaring, the department named infant mortality among its top three health priorities, along with the high rates of adult obesity and adult smoking, he said.
"We are bringing it out from the shadows, and we are shining a lot of spotlights on it," VanNess said. "We're going to keep the spotlight on it till we get better."
During a presentation at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, the commissioner described how obesity and smoking are factors in the high infant mortality rate.
"We know what causes infant mortality," he said. "It's just a matter of getting it under control."
In Indiana, 16.6 percent of pregnant women smoke, nearly double the national rate of 9 percent. And 30 percent of Indiana women on Medicaid smoke while pregnant. Medicaid births account for half of all Indiana baby deliveries, VanNess said.
Infant death risk factors include babies born with a serious birth defect, born too small or too early, maternal complications, accidental suffocation deaths and sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.
"We are now seeing, if your baby is born early, it might even impact their educational capabilities in the third-grade level," he said.
There is a racial disparity.
The infant mortality rate for black babies born in Indiana in 2006 was 18.1, a number that dropped to 12.3 by 2011. The rate for white babies born in Indiana was 5.5 in 2006 and climbed to 6.9 by 2011, VanNess said.
Indiana has a plan to lower its rate.
The effort includes promoting the "Back to Sleep" campaign aimed at lowering SIDS cases by having babies sleep on their back, focusing on smoking cessation programs, ensuring proper certification of obstetrics and neonatal intensive care unit staff and creating a "hard stop" policy for hospitals to cease elective deliveries before 39 weeks, VanNess said.
Starting July 1, Medicaid will no longer pay for early elective deliveries before 39 weeks, he said.
One of the local ways to address the issue of infant mortality is through a program called Centering Pregnancy, which is used at Community HealthNet, a federally qualified health center.
The program groups women with similar due dates. Groups meets 10 times over the course of the pregnancy.
There, in a yellow room furnished with white wooden rocking chairs, they discuss issues, ask questions and monitor their health, such as their weight and blood pressure, said Dr. Janet Seabrook, executive director of Community HealthNet.
"CHN is centering as a means to reduce infant mortality in Lake County," she said.
Japhia Patton-Reynolds participated in the program at CHN and said it was a good place to talk and share advice with other moms-to-be.
The clinic operates the program with funding from the March of Dimes, an organization that works to decrease pre-term birth.
The program covers $330 in resources per woman, which leads to cost savings found by keeping pregnant women healthy and helping them carry to term, according to Seabrook.