Editorial: Infant deaths in decline

On September 15, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

Memphis has the talent to win this war and to show skeptics that progress is being made.

Commercial Appeal
September 15, 2010

Those on the front lines in Memphis should be encouraged by the $1.6 million that, according to Gov. Phil Bredesen, will be available from Tennessee state government over the next three years to help fund the war on infant mortality.

With the strong possibility that a Republican majority will control the General Assembly and the governor’s office next year, however, they should also be prepared to show measurable results.

Search our databases. The GOP is poised to put the program under the microscope and demand accountability.

The infant mortality crisis has been on the front burner in Memphis since 2005, when the series “Born to Die” was published in The Commercial Appeal. It focused on Memphis’ number-one rank among the largest U.S. cities in its infant mortality rate. One North Memphis neighborhood with a death rate that rivaled Vietnam and El Salvador was examined in detail.

Infant deaths have declined since 2006, when programs were developed to provide prenatal services, help for children who survive preterm births and the like. But the survival of those programs is not guaranteed. Republicans on the state Senate Finance Committee have complained that accountability is lacking at the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care and Coordination.

They gave the program a scare last spring, and its statewide funding is guaranteed only through June 2011.

Complaints about accountability could also be heard Monday at a Shelby County Commission meeting — in this case from a Democrat, Commissioner Henri Brooks — when the commission voted to devote the $1.6 million in grants to several local programs.

The funding was announced Monday by Bredesen during a summit at the University of Memphis’ FedEx Institute of Technology.

There the focus was on successes the program has enjoyed and assurances that the community is going in the right direction in the effort to save babies’ lives.

Talking to a reporter later, however, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, made it clear that GOP efforts to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the program will continue.

One thing clear from the summit on Monday is that Shelby County and the state of Tennessee have the talent and expertise to defeat the scourge of infant mortality.

Another was that the talent is here, as well, to show that their efforts are bearing fruit. They must be able to do both, or the war won’t be won.

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