UNTHSC to lead Fort Worth fight against infant mortality

A federal grant puts UNT Health Science Center at the heart of an effort to combat Fort Worth’s stubbornly high infant mortality rates.

The university received a five-year, $3.5 million Healthy Start grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to implement a national model that’s designed to improve women’s health before, during and after pregnancy and support families in caring for their infants through the first two years of life.

Several geographic clusters within Tarrant County have consistently high rates of infant mortality. The national rate is about 6 deaths per 1,000 live births, but in parts of central, southeast and southwest Tarrant County, the infant mortality rate is around 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Additionally, there are significant racial and ethnic disparities, with African-American babies more than twice as likely to die during their first year of life as Caucasian or Hispanic babies.

"After more than a decade of raising awareness, developing partnerships and building trust, the time is right to make a noticeable change in Tarrant County for our most vulnerable women, infants and families," said Amy Raines-Milenkov, DrPH, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "We are dedicated to using the Healthy Start model to reduce infant mortality in our community."

The UNTHSC team comprises a program manager, five caseworkers, a health education coordinator and two community health workers. They will make in-home visits to at least 500 at-risk women year, half of whom must be pregnant.

With the help of community partners, UNTHSC aims to connect women and their families to health services, prenatal care, early childhood interventions and other evidence-based services proven to reduce health disparities and improve infant mortality rates.

"We want to build upon our community’s assets and resources, our established partnerships and our collective expertise to improve the health of Tarrant County infants – and the mothers and fathers who nurture and care for them," Dr. Raines-Milenkov said. 

Dr. Raines-Milenkov serves on the Texas Department of State Health Services Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force. She is also the Chair of the Tarrant County Infant Health Network. Her research focuses on maternal health, preconception health, birth outcomes, and systemic and social contributors to adverse outcomes.

Eighty-seven organizations received Healthy Start grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including four in Texas.

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