Map shows infant mortality rates in Marion County. The areas in orange have the highest instances of infant death and are the six target areas. (Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Health in Marion County.)
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Marion County Confronts Infant Death With New Health Program

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Marion County is advocating for healthier babies and moms.

As a part of the Florida Healthy Babies Initiative, the Healthy Start program in Marion County is targeting areas within the county that have the highest rates of infant mortality. The program hopes to educate expectant mothers on common factors that contribute to the mortality rate, which would lower instances of infant death.

Lack of education, transportation and birth control are all contributing aspects.

Lynne Hough, a Healthy Start administrator, said Marion County has high rates of infant mortality when compared to the rest of the state.

“What we need to do, as a community, is to identify the concerns and work toward solutions,” she said.

One of the biggest needs is transportation. Hough said many pregnant women in the county can’t find reliable transportation to doctor’s appointments, which keeps them from receiving proper prenatal care.

“I think the one thing we’ll see come from this meeting is attention, which will get pregnant women into care,” Hough said.

Dr. Kurt D. Jones, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, said he has only been in Marion County for eight weeks and is already hoping to make a difference.

“If there are women who need transportation, then I can make arrangements,” he said.

Jones also said his office takes most insurance providers and offers same-day appointments.

“I’ve been here for a short period of time, but I really feel that there is a need here,” he said.

Jones said he wants to improve the quality of care offered to women of Marion County.

Other concerns are stress levels, birth control, access to healthy food and the dangers of co-sleeping — when infants sleep in the same bed as one or both parents.

Sudden unexpected infant death is one of the largest causes of infant mortality, said Debbie Lee Garrett, a Marion County nurse and lactation specialist.

Many young mothers are pushed to co-sleep, which is largely related to the desire to breastfeed, she said.

Mothers will co-sleep to ease nighttime feedings, which can easily lead to accidental suffocation and infant death, Garrett said.

“Young girls especially have a hard time relating until they hear specific stories about infant death,” she said.

Hough said the work doesn’t end with conversations of solutions.

“We’ve just had a very fruitful dialogue,” Hough said. “Now we need to work on distributing the workload throughout the community.”

She said it will take the entire state to move the infant mortality rate down and help Florida become a healthier state.

“Healthy moms and babies are a good measure of health as a whole,” Hough said.

About Catherine Dickson

Catherine is a reporter for WUFT News. She can be reached at news@wuft.org or 352-392-6397.

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