Heartland organization works to help babies make it to first birthday

Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 1:33 PM CDT
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MISSISSIPPI COUNTY, Mo. (KFVS) - The Mississippi River Delta region has long reported one of the worst infant mortality rates in the country.

In our continuing series “Bridging the Great Health Divide,” we look at a local organization working in Mississippi County to help babies survive their first year.

The first cries from a baby is a sound that can light up a delivery room, but over the years in Mississippi County, babies aren’t making it to their first birthday. This county is one of the worst for infant mortality.

“It only takes one night and it’s just so preventable,” said Rachelle Johnson, hub coordinator.

And over the last eight years, the nonprofit Bootheel Babies and Families has worked to lower that infant morality rate.

“We’ve made significant progress through all our counties,” said Tracy Morrow, executive director.

Morrow said they launched a campaign in 2013.

And within their six counties, they have created “hubs” to help education people about the ongoing problem.

“So, we’ve used this hub model so the communities in each county can tell us why they think their infant mortality rates are so high,” she said.

And since using the hub model, the rates from 2013 to 2020 have fluctuated, but ultimately decreased since the start of the initiative.

Morrow credited that to the hub’s focus areas.

“They function within our three focus areas which are substance misuse, safe sleep and pre- and post-natal care. They focus on which ever area they chose and that is what’s most important in their county that’s effecting their infant mortality rates.”

And Mississippi County Hub Coordinator Rachelle Johnson said they are focusing heavily on safe sleep.

“We had 90 deaths in the past seven years, and those six counties, and of those 90 deaths 47 of them were because of unsafe sleep practice,” she said.

Johnson said through education and word of mouth they have seen the decrease just within the county.

’'We are looking upstream and how can we keep those babies from being in a position to not getting to their first birthday,” she said.

But Johnson said the work is not done.

“There’s been discussions about what our needs in Mississippi County daycare is one of them, you know, and having a safe environment for those that need childcare, especially for those less than a year old. And that’s very lacking in Mississippi County,” Johnson said.

And Morrow couldn’t agree more.

“Even one infant life is too many and our goal is say we had no infant deaths,” she said.

Morrow encouraged everyone to visit the Bootheel Babies and Families website to learn more about how you can help babies in southeast Missouri make it to their first birthday.

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