Worcester Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force to engage community in awareness of city’s high rate of infant mortality

WORCESTER, Mass.—May 10, 2010—The Worcester Division of Public Health (WDPH) has received a $20,000 grant to address the city’s high rate of infant mortality and will work with the Worcester Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force (WIMRTF), Common Pathways and the Partnership for Health Equity to engage the community through a series of public “town hall” meetings and focus groups this spring and summer. The first town hall meeting will be held May 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Worcester Public Library.

The grant, funded through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Minority Health, will focus on policies and systems that may contribute to, or may be improved to reduce, racial disparity in infant mortality. The city has long had a higher-than-average rate of infant deaths: currently, nine in every 1,000 infants born in the city die before their first birthdays (totaling approximately 25 infants per year). The state average is approximately five per 1,000, and the national average is approximately seven per 1,000. The rate increases or decreases slightly each year and, although there is no clearly identifiable root cause of the problem, there is a marked racial disparity, with African American infants dying at two to three times the rate of white infants.

“This funding is so important in raising awareness throughout the community on such a longstanding public health problem,” said Derek S. Brindisi, Director of Public Health. “With federal and state support we will be able to work with our local partners to study systems that may influence Worcester’s high rate of infant mortality.”

In addition to community outreach and awareness efforts, the grant includes two other components:
• The identification of four city organizations that can collect data regarding factors that may influence mortality, such as language, ethnicity and race. Those organizations will be identified by a local committee and receive data collection training from the state.
• The identification of four city organizations to have an employee be trained by the state in culturally and linguistically appropriate services, or CLAS, and then have the training given to other staff members of those organizations.

“Infant mortality rates are a reflection of the health of a community at large,” said Marianne E. Felice, MD, chair of the Worcester Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force, chair of the department of pediatrics of UMass Medical School and pediatrician-in-chief of UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center. “High infant mortality rates are a community problem, not simply a medical problem. Hence, we need the input and help of the entire Worcester community to solve it.”

The Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force is a volunteer organization made up of public health officials, medical professionals, representatives of service organizations and community advocates seeking to define the causes of, and promote efforts to decrease, infant mortality in Worcester. The objectives of the Task Force are:
• to create awareness of the high rates of infant mortality in the Worcester community;
• to encourage the community of Worcester to become invested in reducing infant mortality in the city;
• to identify the physical, psychosocial, environmental and social determinants of infant mortality; and
• to improve the overall health of the Worcester community in general.

The first town hall forum will be held Wednesday, May 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Banx Room of the Worcester Public Library at 3 Salem Square in Worcester. Task force members will present the video, “Is Inequality Making Us Sick? When the Bough Breaks,” a compelling documentary produced by PBS that examines the health disparities between African Americans and whites, and how such disparities may influence infant mortality.