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More than a dozen local leaders, including the mayor, county executive, council members, hospital chief executives and health leaders signed onto an agreement to launch First Year Cleveland, an initiative designed to lower the region's high infant mortality rate.
At an afternoon news conference Wednesday, December 30, the group, led by Cleveland City Council President Kevin J. Kelley, announced the launch of the initiative, which has been in the planning stages for a year.
"Our infant mortality rate isn't just bad," Kelley told the group. "It's not just unacceptable. It's appalling and it's shocking, and it has to shock all of us into action."
Cleveland has averaged about 13 infant deaths per 1,000 live births over the past five years. That's more than twice the national average. In Cuyahoga County, 133 babies died in 2013 before reaching a first birthday.
Members signed an agreement to collaborate efforts to significantly lower the rates of infants dying before their first birthday.
The group’s task will be to select a board for First Year Cleveland as well as help with its formation, development of the mission, strategy, and implementation of expanding best practices to families throughout the community. The advisory group will also help select a director of the initiative by the end of the first quarter of 2016.
It is not yet clear if the group will function as a non-profit, or under the auspices of an existing county or city program, Kelley said.
“Cleveland ranks as one of the highest cities in the country for infant mortality,” said Council President Kelley. “One baby’s death is one too many, and looking at our numbers, it is time to take emergency action.”
Ohio ranks 45th out of 50 states in infant mortality overall and has one of the highest rates among African American babies in the nation.
The most recent statistics by the Ohio Department of Health – numbers from 2014 -- show Ohio’s infant mortality rate at 6.8, meaning nearly seven babies per 1,000 die before the age of 1.
Among black babies in Ohio the rate is nearly double at 14.3.
The overall rate in Cuyahoga County is 8.1. In Cleveland it is around 13.
“Cleveland has led a strong effort to reduce infant mortality,” said Mayor Frank G. Jackson. “But it is clear more must and can be done. We will work together to increase the chances that every infant here in Cleveland can live a long and productive life.”
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish added, “We must work together to end the shameful rate of infant mortality in our county. I am very pleased to be part of this great collaborative whose mission is to effect a significant and sustainable reduction in infant mortality in our community.”