A $400,000 donation to Riley Children's Foundation will be used to fight child deaths.
The donation was announced at a news conference Tuesday and came from philanthropists Dick Waterfield and Larry Lee and anonymous donors. It will fund efforts to reduce Allen County's infant mortality rate, which is higher than the national rate.
“We're significantly higher and when we look at certain populations, it's even higher,” said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner. “A baby dies in Allen County every three weeks before their first birthday.”
The rate in Indiana and Allen County is 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, about 25% higher than the national rate of 5.8 deaths per live births.
Some local areas are higher.
ZIP code 46806, on the south side of Fort Wayne, has a rate of 15.4 – almost three times the national rate.
Lack of access to prenatal care and socioeconomic factors including race and income can lead to high infant mortality, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most preventable cause of death in infants younger than 1 is unsafe sleep, McMahan and others said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be placed on their backs in a crib with a tight-fitting sheet and no soft bedding or toys, which could potentially block their breathing.
Local efforts will be based on a program in Indianapolis in which Riley and medical providers partner with child care centers to educate parents about safe sleep. That program also helps child care centers reach national accreditation.
Whitley Wynns, project coordinator for the Indianapolis effort, said child care centers are key to educational outreach because parents are often in contact with them.
“You don't go to the doctor every day, but families who are fortunate to have child care are doing that every day,” she said.
Paige Wilkins, executive director of Healthier Moms and Babies, said the local program is a two-year project.
An emotional Lee called infant deaths “a scourge” and said he vowed to help after attending a fundraiser to combat them about two years ago.
“If we can save even one or a couple, ...,” he said, his voice trailing off.
Waterfield, who hopes that his donation will provide help, said he decided to contribute after learning about the state's high mortality rate.
“That's not something we can be proud of,” he said. “Supporting Riley is like supporting mom and apple pie.”