March 10, 2016

Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton funds program to help reduce infant mortality rate

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, which is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System, is funding a new pilot program that is designed to educate expectant mothers to help reduce the incidence of infant mortality. The program, known as VITAL, is run by Pregnancy Choices.

The Repository recently ran an article about the VITAL program. As seen in The Repository:

'Vital' mission: Cutting infant mortality

Amid the chatter comparing stomachs and cravings, there was a lot of laughter as seven young mothers met at Pregnancy Choices to take part in the agency’s “VITAL” pilot program.

The goal of VITAL, organizers say, is to educate expectant mothers to help reduce the incidence of infant mortality. Pregnancy Choices, formerly known as the Pregnancy Support Center of Stark County, is a faith-based nonprofit founded in 1984.

Ohio rates 48th in the nation for infant mortality, and 49th for black infants.

“We’re here to walk with them through their pregnancy,” said program Director Sherveriria “Sherry” Harris. “We want to show them how they can have a healthy baby.”

That assistance includes classes and discussions on exercise, the birthing process, nutrition, infant care, safe sleeping, car seat installation, bonding and breastfeeding. The participants will meet twice monthly.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the state ranks worst for infant mortality among the 10 most-populous states, at 7.7 infants per 1,000 born, compared to the national average of 6.2 infants.

In Ohio, the overall mortality rate in 2014 was 6.85—much lower than Stark County’s rate of 8.23. In Stark County, the infant-mortality rate for white residents is 6.6 per 1,000 births compared to 20.24 for blacks.

“To be honest, we’re still trying to pinpoint why,” Harris said. “The No. 1 issue is prematurity. Some things we know, such as lack of prenatal care. Some people don’t know where to get treatment.”

Harris said other factors include low birth weight, lack of access to doctors, poor nutritional habits and smoking.

Jill Taylor, executive director of Pregnancy Choices, said VITAL is different with its additional goal of building relationships among the expectant moms through regular activities and classes.

VITAL also will follow the families for up to a year after birth.

“We also want to encourage them to be leaders for the next group of girls,” she said.

Taylor said VITAL is free to participants, underwritten by a grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation. VITAL also is working in partnership with the Stark County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Health’s “Ohio Buckles Buckeyes” program.

Harris said VITAL provides a list of health providers and physicians willing to treat participants on a sliding scale. There’s also a free “baby boutique.” Clients also receive free bus passes and gas cards.

In July, VITAL will be available at Pregnancy Choices’ office at 121 Tremont Ave. SE in Massillon. Other offices are at 2645 Cleveland Ave. NW, and 4500 22nd St. NW in Perry Township.

Photo: Sherveriria Harris (right), administrative coordinator of VITAL, an infant mortality-reduction pilot program, meets with a group of expectant moms in Canton. Photo credit: Goshay

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