DeWine Tackles Infant Mortality, Home Visitation in First Official News Conference

Gov. Mike DeWine signed his seventh executive order Tuesday to create the Advisory Committee on Home Visitations, a group that will meet over the next few weeks and make recommendations to DeWine ahead of the executive budget on how to fund and expand home visitation programs for at-risk mothers and children.

DeWine signed the order during his first official news conference as governor, which was held at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

The panel, which will include leaders from Ohio’s children’s hospitals, will have an abbreviated timeline within to work, with weekly meetings planned over the next five or six weeks.

Opening the event, Nationwide Children’s Hospital CEO Steve Allen noted that infant mortality has been a problem in Ohio over the last decade and while there has been a slight decline, there remains a stark racial inequality. He said premature births remains one of the leading causes of infant mortality, accounting for a third of those deaths.

Allen said evidence-based home visitation programs are among the most “impactful” strategies. Through those programs providers work with a woman and her family to improve pregnancy outcomes and enhance the first year of a child’s life. The provider, who may be a nurse or a social worker, spends time with the parent, educating and providing guidance to mothers.

DeWine said it is no secret that children’s issues will be a focal point of his administration. He said his advisory panel will focus on ways Ohio can use home visiting to improve outcomes of families and children. The group will then make formal recommendations on state investment in the program and how it can expand. He said he will ask the group to move quickly.

“We would envision this group would include a timetable and chart a pathway to achieve this,” DeWine said.

He said the voluntary programs focus on getting a child off to a good start in their lives. The programs have been shown to improve infant mortality rates, close the achievement gap, and improves parental skills.

He said that Ohio currently only serves about 4 percent of eligible families for these programs, a number he said his administration wants to dramatically increase.

“We want every child to have that good start,” DeWine said. “To think we, by great efforts, are only at 4 percent of eligible families is not where we want to be.”

He added that his administration understands that there will be a cost, and the advisory panel will also be looking at what kind of staffing and personnel will be needed to expand. He said his administration’s goal is to triple the size of the program, but he indicated he would like to see it grow beyond that figure.

Judy Van Ginkle, the president of Every Child Succeeds, a home visitation program based out of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, who was named to the advisory panel by DeWine, said the executive order and advisory panel are the first time children in Ohio are being addressed in this way. She said the first 1,000 days of life are the ones that matter most, and if that fundamental piece is not right, a child also misses the most important learning times in brain development and child development.

She said it is important that the advisory panel is linked to children’s hospitals and what they are already doing. She said hospitals bring a stable organization so the programs can grow and thrive.

According to Sandy Oxley, chief of the Bureau of Maternal Child and Family Health at the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), about 4,000 families were served in evidence-based home visiting programs in the last year, although about 100,000 would be eligible under the criteria, which include being under 200 percent of the federal poverty level and having other at-risk factors such as low education levels, being a former foster child, being in the military, being at risk for premature birth, among other factors. The state has invested about $19.6 million in General Revenue Funds in the programs per year, and has leveraged another $8.6 million in federal matching funds.

DeWine’s administration said it was working on the full figures of cost savings the home visiting programs can realize, but DeWine said it is an example of what he talked about in his inauguration speech when he said that investments by his administration may not see immediate results.

In addition to Allen, Ginkle and Oxley, members of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Home Visitation will include the following:

– LeeAnne Cornyn, DeWine’s director of Children’s Initiatives, who will chair the panel.

– Carrie Beier, superintendent of the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

– Patti DePompei, president of UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

– Debbie Feldman, CEO of Dayton Children’s Hospital.

– Michael Fisher, CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

– Pat Gabbe, founder of Moms2Be.

– Heather Gibson of REACH for Tomorrow.

– Paula Grieb, associate chief nursing officer of Metro Regions and vice president of patient experience for ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital.

– Kim Hauk, chief policy officer of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.

– Alicia Leatherman, director of strategic initiatives at Celebrate One.

– Grace Wakulchik, CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital.

– Jane Whyde, executive director of the Franklin County Family and Children First Council.

GroundWork Ohio, a policy research group focused on quality early learning and development led by former Ohio Sen. Shannon Jones, praised DeWine’s announcement.

“It is clear from Gov. DeWine’s very first actions upon taking the oath of office, that he is absolutely committed to laying the necessary foundation for the healthy development of young children in the state,” said Jones in a statement. “Today’s announcement confirms, yet again, his understanding that we have to follow the evidence and invest early to improve the lifelong success of all Ohio kids.”

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on January 15, 2019.  Copyright 2019 Hannah News Service, Inc.