Addressing Persistent Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality

October 27, 2022

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Since public and private partners came together to form CelebrateOne in 2014, Franklin County, Ohio has seen gradual but real improvement in its overall infant mortality rate. But since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, rates have risen again, and the disparities between Black and White families have become worse. In the period between 2019-2021, there was an average of:

  • 4.4 deaths per 1,000 live births among White infants
  • 12.0 deaths per 1,000 live births among Black infants
  • 2.8x greater infant mortality rate among Black infants

So in 2021, CelebrateOne unveiled an ambitious strategic plan focused on reducing that disparity. And now CelebrateOne, along with its health care partners, has become among the first recipients of a federal grant to help implement the strategies.

The Catalyst for Infant Health Equity grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration provides $2.5 million over five years.  Nationwide Children’s Hospital, on behalf of the CelebrateOne partnership of local government agencies, community-based organizations, and area health care systems, is one of nine recipients of the grant in the United States, and the only recipient in Ohio.

“We have done important work to improve access to prenatal care and resources for parents but we know there is more that must be accomplished – particularly in aligning our efforts to focus on equitable outreach and impact those most impacted by infant mortality, Black babies and mothers,” said Maureen L. Stapleton, executive director of CelebrateOne. “This grant gives us a greater ability to do that.”

The official awardee of the grant is Nationwide Children’s Hospital, a founding partner of CelebrateOne and a member of the Ohio Better Birth Outcomes collaborative, which also includes the City of Columbus, Mount Carmel Health System, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, OhioHealth and local Federally Qualified Health Centers.

The grant will make it possible to put into operation three main strategies:

  1. Driving structural changes. Discussions with local Black women highlighted struggles with lack of knowledge about what to expect during pregnancy and feeling that they were unheard by their health care providers. Participating clinic sites will conduct assessments about health literacy and racial equity, then collaborate with each other and community members to improve in these areas.
  2. Embedding community health workers. Community health workers whose lived experiences are similar to those of expectant Black mothers will become parts of four prenatal clinic sites. They’ll serve to expand the capacity of those clinic sites, provide empathetic representation for patients, participate in clinic assessments and improvements, and help connect patients to community resources.
  3. Growing a sustainable community voice. Discussions with local Black women also emphasized challenges that involve public policy concerns, like maternal leave, childcare, and discrimination based on health insurance status. A grassroots women’s group called Queen’s Village Columbus was formed in January 2022 and will continue to focus on Black maternal health and advocacy.

“Our entire partnership wants to accelerate the community momentum that has been developing since the beginning of CelebrateOne,” said Christine Sander, senior director of Infant and Child Wellness at Nationwide Children’s and director of Ohio Better Birth Outcomes. “We’re grateful to receive the grant and are looking forward to what it can help us accomplish.”

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $2.5M over five years. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.

About Nationwide Children's Hospital

Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-22 list of “Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit free-standing pediatric health care systems providing unique expertise in pediatric population health, behavioral health, genomics and health equity as the next frontiers in pediatric medicine, leading to best outcomes for the health of the whole child. Integrated clinical and research programs, as well as prioritizing quality and safety, are part of what allows Nationwide Children’s to advance its unique model of care. Nationwide Children’s has a staff of more than 13,000 that provides state-of-the-art wellness, preventive and rehabilitative care and diagnostic treatment during more than 1.6 million patient visits annually. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s physicians train the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded free-standing pediatric research facilities. More information is available at NationwideChildrens.org.