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What are state leaders doing to protect at-risk mothers and babies?

Posted: 7:26 PM, Nov 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-21 19:26:55-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly a third of women in Indiana don't have a hospital in their county where they can receive prenatal care.

Call 6 Investigates took that information straight to the governor and state health commissioner to see what's being done to help help babies and their moms who don't have easy access to care.

"Six-hundred-twenty-three babies didn't live past the age of one in Indiana in 2016 — 623. We can and we will save more of them," Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said last year at his State of the State address when he promised to make Indiana "the best state in the Midwest" for infant mortality by 2024.

As it stands now, Indiana ranks the seventh worst in the country for infant mortality and third worst for maternal mortality.

After requesting for two weeks to sit down with the governor and discuss this issue, we decided to show up to one of his public events and ask our questions there.

Call 6: "You made reducing infant mortality one of your targeted issues as governor. What have you done and what resources have you dedicated to doing that?"

Gov. Holcomb: "Well, there is more funding but most importantly there's more boots on the ground. Zip code by zip code, where the need is the highest. What we started to do is having OB Navigators on the ground in the home throughout the whole process."

ALSO READ | Maternity care deserts endanger mothers and babies in Indiana's rural communities

The OB Navigator program he's referring to was signed into law earlier this year, committing $3.3 million to connecting women in the highest risk areas with home visitation services during and after pregnancy.

But nearly a year later, women are yet to receive those services. In fact, the State Department of Health plans to roll out the program in January. They spent the past few months meeting with hospitals in the 20 counties struggling the most.

Call 6: "Women living in a third of our state either don't have a hospital or don't have an OB/GYN physician in their own county, so they're having to travel out of county to be seen by a doctor."

Gov. Holcomb: "And those navigators are traveling from neighboring communities to get out into those rural areas that I think you're referencing. We need to do a whole lot more of that," Holcomb said.

We also caught up with State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box., who Governor Holcomb appointed, in part, to focus on this issue because she's an OBGYN herself.

Call 6: "Is there a way to try to incentive hospitals to not close their doors? To not close their maternity wards?"

Dr. Box: "So it's really hard because whether you do 50 deliveries a month or you do 2,000 deliveries a month you need to have certain basic services. You need to have some type of a newborn ICU, at least a newborn unit. And all of that costs a lot of money for a hospital system to maintain and if you're not doing a large amount of deliveries that can be difficult."

Call 6: "What is the solution?

Dr. Box: "I think the solution is these have to be community-based solutions. We as a state can work to get funding and support programs and resources as the governor and our legislators have done, but then we need to work community by community to help them to bring it together their home visitation services, to bring together the hospital systems, the healthcare providers."

Once the OB Navigator program rolls out, we intend to follow them along and show you what it looks like.

"It's going to take time because of the duration of the commitment, but we are starting to see positive indicators. We just need to do a whole lot more of it statewide," Holcomb said.

Pregnant women and new moms who need resources now can call the Moms Helpline at 1-844-624-6667 to find help nearby.