The Alliance For A Clean Environment
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Too many baby deaths in Pottstown

By Carl Hessler Jr
Mercury Staff Writer
NORRISTOWN - Despite health department efforts to curb infant deaths in Pottstown during the last several years, Pottstown continues to have a higher than average infant mortality rate.
And those babies born to black mother are dying more often than babies born to white mothers.
"This is embarrassing. This county is too wealthy and too educated to have this happen. For a county this wealthy we need to do better." Democratic commissioner James W. Maza said when confronted with infant mortality statistics.
According to statistics compiled by the Montgomery County Health Department, the Pottstown area averaged 7.9 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births between 1987 and 1996, the last year for which statistics are available. The Pottstown area includes Pottstown, Lower Pottsgrove, Upper Pottsgrove and West Pottsgrove.
Overall, the countywide infant mortality rate (deaths of children under age 1) during the same time period was 7.0. The white infant mortality rate countywide was 6.2 and the black infant mortality rate was 15.2.
The statistics indicated that in the Pottstown area, the white infant mortality rate was 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1987 and 1996 while the black infant mortality rate was 15.1 per 1,000 live births.
Robert Gage, director of the county health department, said health officials have been working intensely since 19- to try to decrease the infant mortality rates. The department has a program where public health nurses visit Pottstown area pregnant women to get them into prenatal care as soon as possible.
"We have to do more," Gage admitted, adding however, that the local statistics mirror trends in the nation and the state. "We are attempting to muster more resources. We have been focusing on Pottstown and Norristown, on the Census tracks at highest risk."
The commissioners have asked Gage and other health officials to submit a report within two weeks to explain the reasons for the high infant mortality rates in the boroughs of Pottstown and Norristown and to suggest solutions.
"This isn't good enough. We have a long way to go in this county," Maza said. "If it is a problem of money, then I want to address what we can do to remedy that. It may not be just money."
Walter Tsou, deputy director of the health department, pointed out that Norristown continues to have the highest infant mortality rate in the county and Norristown ranks fifth in the state in infant mortality. From 1994 to 1996, the infant mortality rate in Norristown was 17.9, with the white infant mortality rate at 18.3 and the black infant mortality rate at 18.9.
Norristown's infant mortality rate is twice the county average.
"There are geographic segments of our county where the rates are higher," Tsou said.
But in Norristown, the mortality rate has increased over the years, despite outreach efforts there. Between 1990 and 1992, Norristown's overall infant mortality rate was just 12.9 and that climbed to 17.9 during the period 1994-96.
"The numbers are going up substantially instead of going down. We must not be doing something right," Republican commissioner Mario Mele said.
"These numbers are very alarming. We need to get more proactive with the community to let people know resources are there to help them.
But Tsou said the news isn't all bad.
"The good news for Montgomery County is that our infant mortality is better than state and national statistics," Tsou said.
Tsou said the county is already below the federal year 2000 objective of 7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. In 1996, the county's overall infant mortality rate was about 5.7. and Pennsylvania's infant mortality rate was about 7.6.
Infant mortality rates, Tsou said, tend to be closely associated with low birth weight and a mother's access to proper prenatal care.
"Low birth weight is the most important predictor of infant mortality," Tsou said.
The year 2000 goal in the nation is that only 5 percent of all babies born should be of low birth weight. In 1996, about 8.5 percent of all babies born in the county were of low birth weight.
The goal in the year 2000 is to have at least 90 percent of all pregnant women receive prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy. In 1996, about 9 percent of all pregnant county women did not initiate prenatal care in the first trimester, including 7.2 percent of white mothers and 28 percent of black mothers.
Even more alarming, Tsou said, is that 30 percent of pregnant Norristown women didn't receive prenatal care during the first trimester in 1996.
"Young people, 45 percent of teenagers under age 20, did not initiate prenatal care," Tsou said, "As you get older, you get wiser and you get prenatal care."

Reprinted with permission by
The Pottstown Mercury
© February 28, 1999

P.O. Box 3063
Stowe, PA 19464

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