The Daviess County Commissioners have approved the addition of a part-time employee to join the Daviess County Health Department who will specifically work to try and reach pregnant women in an effort to lower the infant mortality rate in the county.
Daviess County Health Nurse Kathy Sullender says the new community health liaison position will identify women who have high-risk pregnancies and help them access services. “These women don’t know how to navigate the system,” said Sullender. “They have fear, a lack of transportation, language services, access to health care. We have lots of services in Daviess County but we lack greatly at getting women into prenatal care and services they need.”
Infant mortality has been an ongoing issue in Daviess County for the last couple of years. The county has been looking for reasons and ways to lower the rate. Officials say that this year mothers in Daviess County have had eight babies die after taking a first breath and 20 others who were stillborn. The liaison would work to try and lower those numbers.
“This person would identify women at risk in our community,” said Sullender. “They would go into the home and work with them and their families to get them signed up for Medicaid, early prenatal screenings, go to doctor’s offices and provide translation services. They could connect them to community resources whether is was for language or nutrition. They would pool all the resources in the area and support the family. Not just at the beginning of the pregnancy but during the pregnancy and after the pregnancy.”
While the Daviess County Health Department appears to be taking the lead in developing the position, several state and local agencies and groups have been working together for several months trying to come up with an answer. Daviess County Commissioner Nathan Gabhart says he got involved after a woman wound up in the office of his business.
“The Friday before Memorial Day, there was a lady in my office,” said Gabhart. “She didn’t speak the language. Her blood sugar was over 800. She just lost a baby a week before. No insurance, no idea where to call. You see this gap where we have resources but we don’t have the connection to the resources. We reached out to the non-profits and no one had taken on that responsibility. We have babies dying. This is our moral responsibility.”
While the position will be directed to help all at-risk pregnancies in the Daviess County, Gabhart says it was growth of the Haitian population in the county that brought about the need for the position. “The position is direly needed,” he said. “These folks are out there in the shadows and as long as our employers continue to ship them in, I don’t know what other solutions we have. I see it as a side effect of the turkey industry and economic development in the county.”
One reason the county is having to create the job is that after working with both the Indiana Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Indiana State Department of Health, local officials learned they are inventing a new position. “I don’t know of any other position in the state quite like this one,” said Sullender. “It is new territory. The state is department of health is offering guidance and we are encouraged by the community support. We really need to identify these pregnancies early and get into the homes.”
The commissioners are being asked to put up $12,000 to be used on the salary. The local health department would provide supplies and support. Daviess Community Hospital has offered to provide training for the liaison and pay for the salary during training.
“This this is the first position of its kind so we may start in one direction and wind up going in another,” explained Sullender. “We intend to start small and invest in a lot of training. Then use the feedback to change the way we grow and modify as we go along.”
“The state is looking for us to create this position so that they can take the idea and our experiences to other counties,” added Gabhart.
Local officials say there is a good possibility that the state will be involved in the future funding, but they wanted to go ahead and start with local funds and seek state assistance in the future. “There is money available through the state department of health and through health grants,” said Sullender. “It will take at least six months to access that money.”
Local leaders say they have spent months looking to see if someone else would take on the issue, but it still landed with the county health department.
"We’ve done an extensive investigation and found the resources are not there,” said Gabhart. “It wasn’t a knee jerk reaction. We have been working on it for three-and-a-half months. We’ve had extensive conversations with the lieutenant governor’s office and the state department of health.”
Daviess County officials have identified several issues in the past that contributed to the higher infant mortality rate, but the addition of an entire new community is what has led to the push for a community health liaison worker.
“The influx of the Haitian population tipped the scale,” said Gabhart. “They are coming in legally but under the radar. FSSA has seven registered and there are 400 that we know of that are living here in the shadows. They don’t speak the language. It’s really a humanitarian issue. Certainly, there are different populations that also contribute to the infant mortality issues. This person will be available to them as well. The immigrant population though is the one where we can make immediate headway.”