About 50 people gathered Thursday for a two-day conference at Wesley Medical Center to discuss infant mortality in the Wichita community and Kansas.
“The main goal is to make sure that all the professionals assisting families in our community know what kinds of resources we have together,” said Cindy Harmon, interim director for Women’s, Infants’ and Children’s Services at Wesley and an event organizer.
The conference, called Heartbreak and Hope, is in its 10th year. Harmon said different topics are addressed each year, and in past years subjects have included suicide, organ donation and caring for caregivers. She said a variety of people attend, from health care providers to social workers, teachers and chaplains.
This year, sessions focused on causes of infant mortality, prevention efforts and resources available in the community.
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“If we’re aware there’s concern out there that we have higher rates of infant mortality in Kansas than across the country, then we can really focus on how to get that reduced,” Harmon said. “If women are not connecting with services that are available, why not?”
Sedgwick County had the highest number of infant deaths in any Kansas county from 2007 to 2011 with 312, or about 21.9 percent of the total infant deaths in the state, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s most recent data.
The infant mortality rate in Sedgwick County from 2007 to 2011 was 7.7 per 1,000 live births, according to KDHE. The most recent figures from the state show the overall infant mortality rate in Kansas is 6.2 per 1,000 live births.
The most recent national figures from 2010 show the infant mortality rate at 6.1 per 1,000 live births.
Risk factors for infant mortality, which is defined as death of an infant younger than 1, include premature birth, low birth weight, poverty, smoking, teen pregnancy and inadequate prenatal care.
Midge Dempsey, registered nurse coordinator with the Sedgwick County Health Department Healthy Babies program, said she thinks most people are not aware that infant mortality is an issue, particularly in Sedgwick County.
“People will say, ‘I can’t believe it. I had no idea,’” about the rate, Dempsey said.
The Healthy Babies program focuses on education for pregnant women, mothers and families, Dempsey said.
There is significant racial disparity in Kansas infant mortality rates. The rate for white, non-Hispanic infants is 5.3 per 1,000, and for black non-Hispanic infants, it’s 12.9 per 1,000.
“One of our main funding sources for the Healthy Babies program is a Title V federal grant that has us concentrate on the three ZIP codes here in the city of Wichita with the highest black infant mortality rate, which we heard today is astronomically high,” said Christina Rodriguez, a registered nurse with Healthy Babies and Wesley Medical Center.