Most people associate high infant mortality rates with third world countries, but Rochester's rates are higher than the state and national averages, says Patricia Brantingham, executive director of the Perinatal Network of Monroe County.
And the risk is higher depending on where you live and the color of your skin, she says.
"The rate for African-American babies is at least double the rate for whites," Brantingham says. "And ZIP codes are a big risk factor no matter where you are located, but being black or Hispanic increases that risk. Put those two factors together and you get a much higher rate."
The network is trying to increase public awareness about infant mortality in Rochester through two events next month, called "Death by Zip Code No More: How to Align Forces to Shift the Health Trajectory of a City." Both are free and open to the public.
On Friday, September 5, there will be commemoration for infants who died before their first birthday. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wegman Lodge in Seneca Park. Brantingham describes it as a bittersweet, family friendly celebration that will feature healthy eating and wellness discussions.
The second event is a full-day conference featuring the Rev. Marvin McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, on Tuesday, September 23.
Brantingham says the conference is designed to bring the Rochester area's health, education, social service, and faith communities together to explore ways to make an impact on infant mortality locally.
Registration for the events is required: www.pnmc-hsr.org/infant-mortality-new/ or call (585) 546-4930.
The area's ZIP codes with the highest infant mortality rates are 14621, 14605, 14611, and 14619, which have a death rate of 13 per 1,000 live births, according to the Monroe County Department of Public Health. ZIP codes 14606, 14613, and 14614 have 10 to 12 deaths per 1,000.
The reasons for Rochester's higher infant mortality rates are a mix of issues complicated by disparities in health and income, Brantingham says. Much of the risk is linked to the mother's inability to access quality medical care well before she becomes pregnant, she says.
For example: When did she begin seeing a doctor? Is she under a lot of stress? Is she living in a safe home? Does she have any infections that may be undiagnosed or untreated? Does she have access to nutritious food?
About a year ago, Brantingham's staff started making calls to other local agencies and services and found that most wanted to participate in a plan to tackle the problem. And through better communication and small changes to many of the programs and services already in place, she says they realized they could make a bigger impact.