Group Offers Lifeline to Reduce Infant Mortality At-Risk Women Get Linked with Health Providers

Article excerpt

Byline: John Carter, Times-Union staff writer

A new Northside group is trying to throw out a lifeline to save the lives of babies.

Organizers of the new community outreach group, called Hold Out the Lifeline, say infant mortality in and near the urban core is so acute that something has to be done.

"We've worried and prayed about this problem for a long time and last December we started setting up to seriously address the issue," said Karen Smithson, project coordinator for the group, formed by St. Matthew Baptist Church to draw attention to racial disparities in infant mortality.

"What we mainly want to do is link at-risk women with health providers and to educate them on how to keep themselves healthy to give their babies a better chance of staying healthy," Smithson said.

Last year, 117 babies died in Duval County before their first birthday. Nearly two-thirds of the babies who died were African-American. More than half the babies' parents lived in the urban core of Jacksonville.

"Many of these mothers are very young and don't get any prenatal care," Smithson said. "Because of a lot of issues, they don't take care of themselves, or may not even know they're experiencing dental or other health problems. They may have nutritional deficiencies or not even know to take prenatal vitamins. They don't even get checkups -- ever. But we have to reach them."

Smithson said Hold Out the Lifeline is using "everyday language" to reach out to young expectant mothers. For example, the name of one talk that group members deliver is called, "Girl, Go to the Doctor!"

"Our goal is to take everyday conversations and use these in our advertising campaign to remind the community that too many of our babies are dying, and that each of us has the responsibility to speak for their future," Smithson said.

One of the main facilities where the mothers are referred is the Magnolia Project, which opened at 1780 W. 45th St. in April 2000.

The project, a federal program funded by a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a Healthy Start Coalition initiative set up to improve the health and well-being of women during their childbearing years. …