New Jersey is making a concerted effort to improve the health of black babies. While its overall infant mortality rate is below the national average, the rate for black infants is three times higher than for whites.
Atlantic City was an early target for improvement, with a black infant mortality rate double that for the state. Then the September report from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office on city progress under the state’s administration underscored that focus.
That has gotten the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to require that combating infant mortality and obesity be part of a proposal by AtlantiCare for a $38 million health park in the city, adjacent to its hospital campus.
In the last year alone, multiple significant steps were taken on infant mortality in the state and city.
In May, the state Department of Health announced its Healthy Women, Healthy Families initiative would make $4.3 million in grants to organizations in eight high-need cities, including Atlantic City. The long-term goal of the grants was to increase the percentage of healthy births and reduce black infant mortality.
The department said the risks to be addressed in Atlantic City were substantial. Among the needy cities, it has the highest percentage of people with obesity, those smoking during pregnancy and women age 25 and older with no high school diploma.
A couple of months later, the department awarded $1.1 million of the money to the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative — which serves seven South Jersey counties — for maternal and birth health care with a special emphasis on racial disparities and high-risk Atlantic City and Camden.
Another care provider in the region, Southern Jersey Family Medical Centers, in November held a free community baby shower in Atlantic City as a way to connect families with maternal and infant health services, support and education.
The state announced a pilot program last year to bring doula services — physical and emotional support for mothers before, during and after childbirth — to Atlantic City and other areas with high black infant mortality rates.
Then legislators advanced a bill to seek federal approval to have doula care covered under Medicaid. Minnesota and Oregon already have received such waivers statewide, and New York has gotten Medicaid coverage for doulas for recipients in Buffalo’s Erie County and parts of Brooklyn.
AtlantiCare’s tentative plan for a health park on land currently owned by the state would not only strengthen these efforts but add another key piece to the city’s revival. Expanded services to the Atlantic City community would include a maternal and child health clinic and a dialysis unit.
As the report by the governor’s special counsel, Jim Johnson, demanded, “The state, the county and key stakeholders must combine forces to understand the depth of the problems, identify the solutions and implement programs that will address the issues” of the severe public health challenges facing Atlantic City residents.
We look forward to the region’s largest health system and the CRDA working out the details to make the health park a reality.