Ohio Department of Health provides update to the Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality

The Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality held a meeting on September 16 to discuss changes to home visiting programs due to COVID-19. Led by Senator Stephanie Kunze and Representative Sara Carruthers, the Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality focuses on improving the infant mortality rate in Ohio so that more babies will celebrate their first birthdays. Guest speakers presented information on three programs: Early Childhood Home Visiting, Pathways Community HUBs and Early Intervention.

Telehealth visits remain active through October 31 for families via video, phone and text messaging.

Alicia Leatherman from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), presented information on Early Childhood Home Visiting, which consists of four evidence-based interventions: Nurse Family Partnership, Healthy Families Ohio, Parents as Teachers Moms and Babies First (there are many Moms and Babies First sites including this one in Summit County). These interventions cover a range of topics such as parental education, healthy pregnancy and child readiness in schools. Since the pandemic started, ODH noticed an enrollment increase in most of the aforementioned programs. Telehealth visits remain active through October 31 for families via video, phone and text messaging. Also, ODH expanded reimbursement practices for telehealth visits and gave funding to offer supplies to families like diapers and wipes. Even though more families are participating in their programs, African Americans are not enrolling as much as their white counterparts.

Later in the meeting, Angela Dawson and Reina Sims from the Ohio Commission on Minority Health led a presentation on the barriers that the Pathways Community HUBs (HUBs) experience during COVID-19. A HUB is a” community care coordination approach focused on reducing modifiable risk factors for high-risk individuals and populations.[i]” Over the last several months, community health workers who work for HUBs have completed fewer hours and cannot visit care coordination agencies because either the organizations reduced their operations or only offered emergency services. Even though the HUBs programs encounter challenges, they collaborate with other stakeholders to reach accomplishments. For instance, they obtained cleaning and telehealth resources from churches and health departments to help families. In addition, HUBs collaborated with managed care programs (MCPs) to increase enrollment in their programs. Specifically, MCPs referred their customers to HUBs programs throughout Ohio.

Some families were not able to receive early intervention services due to lack of technology/resources.

Finally, there was a presentation about the Ohio Early Intervention Program. The Ohio Early Intervention Program supports parents who have children with delayed disabilities until their third birthday. During the pandemic, their employees conduct bi-weekly appointments with families. However, this program faces an obstacle with technology. According to their survey, some families were not able to receive early intervention services due to lack of technology/resources. It is imperative that families who lack technology should have access to it so they can continue to receive proper services from the Ohio Early Intervention Program.

Senator Kunze shared closing remarks at the end of the meeting concerning a common question the audience asked: How can we increase African-American participation in programs? She encouraged the audience to tell how her and ODH can support them. This is an important question to answer because African-American babies have experienced higher infant mortality rates and worse birth outcomes (low birth weight and preterm birth) than their white counterparts. The leaders of the interventions are doing a good job collaborating with other stakeholders to reach out to families, but they would have to think of creative strategies to get Black families involved. They should consider if Black families have barriers to enroll in interventions such as work, transportation or another social determinant of health, like broadband access. ODH and program leaders must continue to collaborate with community-based organizations and find effective ways to enroll Black families into their programs. It is a challenging problem, but not impossible to address during the pandemic.

[i] Pathways Community HUB Institute, Community Care Coordination Learning Network. Connecting those at risk to care: the quick start guide to developing community care coordination pathways. A companion to the Pathways Community Hub Manual. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ); January 2016. AHRQ Publication No. 15(16)-0070-1-EF. https://innovations.ahrq.gov/sites/default/files/Guides/CommHub_QuickStart.pdf