INDIANAPOLIS — Solving a problem as intractable as infant mortality is going to require thinking outside the box.

That’s what several of the presenters at Monday’s annual Indiana infant mortality summit are doing, by working with agencies outside the traditional health care setting.

“Who can be your local partners?” asked Kathy Martin, coordinator of the Baby & Me Tobacco Free program for the Healthy Communities of Clinton County Coalition in Frankfort, Indiana. “The local school? The police? The fire department? The sheriff’s office?”

Indiana perennially ranks among the top 10 states with the highest infant mortality rates, with more than seven infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. Every year, about 600 Hoosiers don’t make it to their first birthdays.

In 2013, Gov. Mike Pence made reducing the number of infant deaths the state’s top public health priority. The inaugural Labor of Love summit was held that same year.

“Indiana is on a single-minded mission to reduce our infant mortality rate,” said Dr. Jennifer Walthall, deputy health commissioner for the state of Indiana.

An estimated 15 percent of the infant deaths in Indiana are due to unsafe sleep. Several fire and emergency medical departments from across the state attended a training Monday to address that issue.

Capt. James Carroll of Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue trained them in his agency’s Direct On-Scene Education, or DOSE, program. That initiative teaches first responders to be on the lookout for unsafe infant sleeping conditions and educate parents on safe sleep, providing them them with cribs and baby sleep sacks if need be.

He preached the so-called “ABCs” of safe sleep: that infants should always sleep alone, on their backs, in a crib. To get that point across, he showed autopsy photos of babies who suffocated, either because their parents put them to sleep on their bellies or rolled over on them.

Carroll said first responders have a unique opportunity that most health care and social service providers don’t: “We go into homes.”

Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative dedicated to reducing infant mortality whose executive director spoke Monday, has a bevy of nontraditional partners. It works with artists and architects to make health center patient rooms more visually appealing. It enlists poets to write poems with moms who have lost infants. It gives presentations to large employers. It has florists donate flowers to give to expectant mothers for going to prenatal visits. Its safe sleep messaging is displayed in the diaper aisles of local grocery stores.

Ryan Adcock, the executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, says he wants to get that city’s infant mortality rate to zero.

“I don’t want a goal that says I’m still OK with babies dying,” he said.


Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.