Metro gets $3.7M grant to fight infant deaths

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 6:43pm

The Metro Health Department on Tuesday announced it has received a $3.7 million grant to combat high infant mortality rates in East and North Nashville.

In 2006, Davidson County had the nation’s second highest number of infant deaths at 93, with African-Americans disproportionately affected with 14.6 deaths per 1,000 births, according to state data. The rate for white women was 6.6 per 1,000 births.

The 2007 numbers from the Metro Health Department show a rate of 10.6 for blacks and 6.9 per 1,000 live births for whites.

The grant will provide $745,672 to the health department per year for five years.

The program will set up shop at community centers that are part of the Metro Parks system and focus efforts on the 37206, 37207 and 37208 zip codes. There will be educational services and support groups along with a component for fathers-to-be, with the hope of strengthening families.

“You have to address more than just the medical care,” said Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge, director of the Health Department’s Family, Youths and Infants Division. “You have to address the family. You have to address the mental health and behavioral health. You have to be able to address the community in multiple ways.”

The grant will bring together several Metro agencies as well as several local universities. Meharry Medical College will provide the obstetric care.

“As a physician, I can tell somebody the importance of fruits and vegetables and their five-a-day, but if you don’t have access to that, you can’t do it,” said Wyche-Etheridge. “I can tell you the importance of exercise but if you can’t go out of your house without fear of getting shot then you’re not going to exercise.”

Memphis is the only other Tennessee city with this type of federal grant.

“This is a very competitive grant process,” said Mary Wakefield, director of the federal Health Resources Services Administration, the organization that disperses the grants. She traveled from Washington D.C. to attend Tuesday’s press conference. “The problems that this project is designed to address are so complex that they really benefit most when there are people, organizations from different vantage points all working together.”

“If same-old, same old worked, across the United States we would not have the infant mortality rates we have got,” Wakefield explained, describing Nashville’s proposal as “innovative.” It will also try and recruit individuals from these neighborhoods to apply for nursing school at Belmont and Tennessee State Universities.

Wakefield also highlighted a separate Nashville organization, United Neighborhood Health Services, on a conference call last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

UNHS has received a roughly $1 million stimulus grant directly from the federal government to expand and rehab its network of primary care clinics.