Helping Babies Reach Their First Birthday Through Mobility Innovations

Every mother looks towards celebrating her baby’s first birthday. But too many women never get the chance to celebrate that milestone. To address the persistent and systemic issue of infant mortality, I established CelebrateOne; a public-private initiative led by Executive Director Erika Clark Jones. We’re charged with reducing our community’s alarming infant mortality rate by 40 percent and cutting the racial health disparity gap in half by 2020.

We have seen some progress. In 2018, Columbus’ own Franklin County had 19 fewer infant deaths than in the previous year, which brings infant mortality rate to 7.5 per 1,000 live births, down from 8.2 in 2017. We are proud to report that since 2011, the county’s infant mortality rate has decreased by 23 percent. Troubling though, is the persistent disparity across racial groups. The infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic white babies in Columbus is now 4.9 per 1,000, a number below the national Healthy People 2020 goal of 6.0. For non-Hispanic black babies, the 2018 rate was 2.5 times as high at 12.3. This disparity shows us that, though progress is being made, there is more work to do. In particular, changing outcomes for residents of colour.

One thing is clear: Equity is the key to reducing infant deaths. Social determinants of health – access to healthcare, housing, food, jobs, and transportation – affect the likelihood of babies reaching their first birthdays. Our proposal and subsequent win of the first-ever Smart Cities Challenge funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation was rooted in my belief that transportation is the great equalizer of the 21st century. We focused on using innovative mobility solutions to improve everyday challenges that residents face. For example, could we improve pregnancy outcomes, such as pre-term births (a leading cause of infant mortality, if we provide easier access to transportation?

Research by Sidewalk Labs, a company dedicated to helping cities meet their biggest challenges through urban innovations, confirmed that expectant women face transportation challenges when going to their prenatal doctor visits right here in Columbus. Sidewalk Labs found that there were opportunities to improve current transportation services provided through Medicaid. Smart Columbus, the public-private partnership established to bring Smart Cities Challenge projects to life, brought stakeholders together to discuss these adversities and formulate an innovative plan for improvement.

Researchers Dr. Courtney Lynch and Dr. Erinn Hade from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center are leading the way in urban transportation for expectant mothers in partnership with CareSource and Molina Healthcare, two of the largest Medicaid providers in our area. Together, we will study ways of delivering rides to physicians for expectant women enrolled in Medicaid and living in Columbus neighborhoods with the highest rates of infant mortality l.Chicago-based, women-owned start-up Kaizen Health has a mission to foster healthy communities. They will partner with the city of Columbus to provide some transportation services. Established by CelebrateOne, StepOne’s initiative aims to connect pregnant women to vital resources and will lead efforts to refer eligible women for study participation. CelebrateOne’s community health workers will serve a supportive role by encouraging women to participate and remain engaged in the project.

Our goal is to determine how best to provide travel assistance for moms so that a lack of reliable transportation is no longer a barrier to receiving early and adequate prenatal care. Researchers will examine women’s satisfaction with transportation services that they receive. They will also examine whether a particular model of transportation delivery is associated with improved pregnancy outcomes and lower infant mortality.

This study is the first of its kind. While other cities have examined how bundling traditional transportation services with other community helps to lower the rate of adverse pregnancy outcomes, this is the first project to look specifically at how transportation is provided. The bar for policy change has risen over the past decade, thus necessitating evidence-based practices. It is our hope that findings from this project (expected to be received in 2021)can help shape the future of medical transportation not only for our expectant mothers here in Columbus, but across the nation.

Together, we can protect our babies and their futures.