City chosen to receive grant to reduce infant deaths Baltimore is to get funds in the Healthy Start program.

September 19, 1991|By Laura Lippman and Thomas W. Waldron | Laura Lippman and Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff mjB

Baltimore is one of 15 areas chosen to receive a lucrative federal grant for new programs aimed at reducing infant mortality rates.

Baltimore will receive a still-unannounced share of $25 million in the federal Healthy Start program. City health officials have said the grant money could mean a dramatic improvement in prenatal care for poor women.

This initial seed money will be followed next year by an additional $171 million to be shared by the various areas. The program's goal is to cut the infant mortality rate in half after five years.

The other winners in the national competition were 19 American Indian communities in the Midwest; Birmingham, Ala.; Boston; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Lake County (including Gary), Ind.; New Orleans; New York City; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; a six-county region in northeastern South Carolina; and Washington, D.C.

"If we didn't get it, no one should get it," acting city HealtCommissioner Elias S. Dorsey said today of the city's comprehensive grant proposal. "It's the largest individual grant for a single project that the city health department has

ever received. We're pretty excited about it. . . . It says we know how to write a proposal."

Carrying out the proposal, however, will be "a Herculean effort," said Thomas P. Coyle of the City Health Department. "We'll be able to tell you in five years if we did it."

"This is so exciting," said Charlene Uhl, early childhood specialist for Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., whose staff cheered upon hearing the news. "We cannot think of a city that is more deserving than Baltimore."

Baltimore's infant mortality rate was third in 1988, behind Washington and Detroit. Nationwide, it is third among deaths for white infants, and ninth among black infants.

According to a Children's Defense Fund report released last month, 18 of every 1,000 infants born here die before their first birthday. It is a rate comparable to those in Kuwait and Costa Rica.

The first grant, which had to be awarded before the federal fiscal year ended Sept. 30, will be used to finish plans for the project. The federal government will review these plans before distributing the second round of grants.

The Baltimore City Health Department won the sought-after federal grant with a proposal based on a model already in operation, the Baltimore Project in Sandtown-Winchester. The year-old program uses community-health advocates -- many of whom live in the neighborhood just west of downtown -- in an aggressive outreach program that stresses prenatal care.

Advocates go door to door, coaxing pregnant women to weekly support-group meetings and accompanying them to doctor appointments. They also try to find treatment for those who use drugs or alcohol.

But the project's scope extends beyond prenatal care. Advocates often end up helping women find jobs or housing. They intervene when clients have problems with welfare checks or food stamps. And they continue to work with the women through the child's first year.

"Most programs wait for the woman to come to them," Daisy Morris, the project director, said in an interview earlier this summer. "We operate just the opposite. We assume we have something really good to offer, but no one's going to know about it unless we tell them."

Under the grant proposal, the city will set up 10 "service areas" in its poorest neighborhoods. It also plans to recruit workers from these areas, possibly welfare recipients enrolled in the state welfare-to-work program, Project Independence.

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