Politics & Government

Sedgwick County Commission renews Healthy Babies grant, cuts position

Christina Rodriquez, an RNBSM, plays with babies during a monthly meeting of a parenting group in the Sedgwick County Healthy Babies program. (2011)
Christina Rodriquez, an RNBSM, plays with babies during a monthly meeting of a parenting group in the Sedgwick County Healthy Babies program. (2011) File photo

A program designed to combat infant mortality survived heavy criticism and a staff position cut Wednesday.

The Sedgwick County Commission renewed a $1 million grant to Healthy Babies, but cut a county-funded position in the public health program.

Healthy Babies provides consultations, in-home visits, community outreach and education on prenatal health and infant care to about 500 at-risk mothers in the county, according to Adrienne Byrne-Lutz, county health director.

The majority of the commissioners criticized the program as ineffective in lowering Sedgwick County’s infant mortality rate, which tops the state and national average.

“I do appreciate that you’re making a difference in that population (in the program), but we haven’t moved the needle for Sedgwick County,” commissioner Jim Howell said.

About 7.7 infants for every 1,000 live births died before their first birthday in the county, according to state data from 2009 to 2013.

“Infant mortality and low birth weight is a drag on our community,” commissioner Tim Norton said.

By comparison, Healthy Babies participants have an infant mortality rate of 1.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, Byrne-Lutz said.

The $2 million program is funded by a $1 million federal grant funneled through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and by matching money from the county. Sedgwick County’s health department and the Kansas Children’s Service League receive the money.

The health department employs 22 full-time staff members to administer the program and visit mothers and babies, Byrne-Lutz said.

With its portion of the grant, the Kansas Service Children League focuses on preventing child abuse, promoting positive parenting and enhancing school readiness for children up to 5 years old, Byrne-Lutz said.

Howell said Healthy Babies has developed mission creep by educating participants on relationships, smoking, budgeting, self-esteem and sexually transmitted diseases.

“(Healthy Babies) has too many staff doing too much for too few women,” Howell said.

He said the Healthy Babies staff had too many administrators and supervisors. Byrne-Lutz said 16 of the 22 Healthy Babies’ staff were care providers or clinical coordinators that had case loads of mothers and children.

Howell said the program should educate on a more limited number of issues, like preventing sudden infant death syndrome, to more women across the county.

Chairman Richard Ranzau proposed an amendment to eliminate one full-time Healthy Babies position that was funded by county property tax money. It is a full-time nursing position with a salary of $77,562.

"I'd prefer to not use county property tax money for a program that's not efficient or effective," he said.

Byrne-Lutz said the program could continue to function with that cut, but not without a cost.

“The goal is to increase the number of women that we’re serving, so that’s a little counterproductive,” she said.

She added the program could see an equivalent $77,562 loss in matching funds.

Commissioner Dave Unruh contended the grant proposal should be separate from the proposal to cut the full-time employee position.

“If we want better results, I don’t know if a $160,000 hit is going to help us advance the results,” he said.

The amended grant proposal passed 3-2, with commissioners Norton and Unruh dissenting.

County commissioners unanimously accepted a $291,077 federal grant for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which targets online child exploitation and prostitution.

Reach Daniel Salazar at 316-269-6791 or dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @imdanielsalazar.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle