Losing Babies: Fort Worth Leads the State in Infant Mortality

As a new mother, I was immensely saddened and attracted to this subject simultaneously. Why does Fort Worth (my hometown) have such a high rate of infant mortality? I found some answers. And more questions. But if one baby is saved because of this story, it was worth every word.

Read the beginning of my story here, published in March by the Fort Worth Weekly:

My baby kicked and moved until the day he died,” said Jodie Kennedy.

She thought everything was fine. It was her second pregnancy. But her amniotic fluid was leaking, making her feel weak and dizzy all the time. She didn’t know that what was happening was out of the ordinary, and she didn’t have a doctor to tell her it was.

It was 2007, and Jodie had just relocated to Fort Worth from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The young mother didn’t have money for a doctor and didn’t know how to apply for Medicaid. So when she was four months pregnant, her son died.

“Oh … it hurts,” she said. “I could have saved my son’s life.”

If Jodie, 29, had gotten medical care early in her pregnancy, a doctor would have seen that her cervix was too weak to carry the weight of the developing child and could have given her injections to prevent premature labor. She knows that now because she delivered a healthy baby girl last summer. This time, with help from a federally funded program operated by a local charity, she went to the doctor right away and got the care she needed to carry the baby to term.

“If I knew what I know now … my son would be here,” Jodie said. “Knowledge is power. It can save somebody’s life, especially when it comes to a baby.”

These days, health officials and charity providers in Tarrant County are trying to turn some sad knowledge into power to help save the lives of more babies in North Texas. According to the most recent statistics available, Fort Worth has the highest infant mortality rate in the state, meaning that a higher percentage of babies here die before their first birthday than in any other major city in Texas. But it’s not just Fort Worth — the North Texas region in general leads the state in infant mortality as well.

Kennedy, with baby Kamryn: “Knowledge is power. It can save somebody’s life.”

Kennedy, with baby Kamryn: “Knowledge is power. It can save somebody’s life.”

Fort Worth, Arlington, and Dallas had the highest infant mortality rates of Texas’ large cities: Fort Worth had 9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 8.2 in Arlington and 7.5 in Dallas.

The problem also seems to be getting worse. In January, the Tarrant County Public Health agency released its most comprehensive report to date on infant mortality. It showed that the number of infant deaths in both Fort Worth and Arlington increased in 2010, even though the total number of babies born decreased during that year.

The causes of infant mortality are complicated, and none of the health officials contacted by Fort Worth Weekly would hazard a guess as to why North Texas cities seem to be so dangerous to the health of fetuses and newborns.

“If I knew the answer to that I would fix it,” said Ann Salyer-Caldwell, associate director of community health promotion at Tarrant County Public Health. Many factors add to the picture of infant mortality, she said, “and we have to dig deep to find all the issues that are affecting it.”

Some of the conditions that lead to infant deaths here carry out the same theme as elsewhere in the state: A mother’s long-term lifestyle affects her chances of having a healthy baby — infant mortality rates are higher for obese women, for instance. Mortality rates also tend to vary by race.

But at least one key factor here seems clear: Tarrant County has the worst percentage in the state of pregnant mothers receiving prenatal care. Premature babies are more likely to die shortly after birth than full-term babies. Moms with sexually transmitted infections are more likely to lose their babies. Both those factors trace back to a lack of medical care during pregnancy.

And the medical care picture for women, particularly poor women, isn’t getting any better in Texas. The legislature has drastically cut state funding for family planning and women’s healthcare in recent years, leading to clinic shutdowns across Texas, including one in Arlington.

When the state’s ban on funding for Planned Parenthood clinics led the federal government to end its women’s health program in Texas, state officials organized what they said was a replacement program. But that program has been criticized in Tarrant County and elsewhere for providing a much lower level of accessible care than in the past. And local health officials said Texas rules make it difficult for poor pregnant women to qualify for Medicaid.

“The painful truth is, many women are going without preventive healthcare that could save lives,” said Danielle Wells, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

Continue…

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Hey, Gloria Steinem.

English: American feminist Gloria Steinem at B...

English: American feminist Gloria Steinem at Brighton High School, Brighton, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got the chance to interview Gloria Steinem (a.k.a. feminist leader of the free world!). Here’s the story, posted by Fort Worth Weekly:

Fort Worth Weekly got the opportunity on Thursday to talk with longtime feminist leader Gloria Steinem about gender issues, equality, and women’s healthcare in Texas.

Steinem, in her late 70s, is the guest speaker this week at Planned Parenthood’s annual fundraising luncheon in Fort Worth. She’s a co-founder of Ms. Magazine and a globally recognized expert and activist on women’s issues. Steinem also co-founded Voters for Choice, a pro-choice political action committee. She’s been a longtime supporter of Planned Parenthood, which got kicked out of the new Texas Women’s Health Program (WHP) earlier this year because Texas lawmakers approved a measure banning any organization that provides abortions from taking part. Planned Parenthood clinics in the past have been the largest provider of medical care under that program, giving women in many parts of the state access they otherwise would not have had to cancer screenings, birth control.

FWW: How does access or lack of access to healthcare affect equality for women?

Steinem: “All basic freedoms revolve around productive freedoms for women.” She said that if you can’t decide when and whether to have children, your ability to make other choices in life is greatly limited. A woman “must be able to decide the size of the family. It’s very important that every child born be loved and wanted.”

Lack of healthcare for women also has a deep affect on families, since women in most cases are the primary caregivers, she said.

FWW: In what way does the new Women’s Health Program affect young girls?

Steinem: “In states that have been afflicted by ignorance on sexual education [like Texas], girls must feel empowered to take care of their own bodies … must be able to understand sexuality. In this country, we have had several administrations promoting ignorance; Texas has many of those voices, like [Gov.] Rick Perry.”

FWW: What is Planned Parenthood’s role in Texas’ healthcare program?

Steinem: “All over the country, Planned Parenthood is the source of primary healthcare for women. It’s the reason why Planned Parenthood is one of the most trusted organizations in the country. And one in five women have turned to Planned Parenthood. … I don’t know any [other] state where the governor has been at war with Planned Parenthood.” She said that quality healthcare is less available in the United States than in most developed countries, which makes low-cost access to quality care even more important.

According to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, its clinics charge women around $100 for a well woman exam, excluding lab fees. That same exam from a private doctor’s office costs around $300.

 

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