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Mayor Rawlings-Blake Announces $1 Million Grant to Sustain City's Novel Public Health Campaign to Reduce Infant Mortality

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has awarded $4 million to prevent infant deaths, reduce health disparities

Baltimore, MD (May 8, 2012) - Today, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a $1 million renewal grant to the Health Department and Family League of Baltimore City from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst), to sustain the City's B'more for Healthy Babies campaign helping to reduce infant mortality. The award builds on CareFirst's initial $3 million grant, extending the program through 2013.

Launched in 2009, B'more for Healthy Babies is a major citywide public health initiative to reduce the city's high rate of infant deaths and promote healthy families. The initiative seeks to build widespread involvement in preventing infant deaths through policy and systems change, by educating providers, and through community outreach and mobilization. The program's guiding mission is to ensure that all Baltimore babies are born full-term, at a healthy weight, and ready to thrive in healthy families.

With a slogan of "Every Baby Counts on You," the initiative seeks to engage all community members in preventing infant deaths, including parents, relatives, caregivers, medical professionals, social workers, teachers, business leaders and others.

"I'm proud of the tremendous strides we've made in reducing infant deaths through the B'more for Healthy Babies campaign. Ensuring the health and well-being of our children and mothers is imperative if the city is to meet my goal of adding 10,000 new families by 2020," Mayor Rawlings-Blake said. "By investing in Baltimore families, CareFirst once again has demonstrated its commitment to preventive health and improving the lives of the City's most vulnerable residents."

Up until 2009 - the year in which the B'more for Healthy Babies initiative was launched - the City had the fourth highest infant mortality rate in the country. Last August, Governor Martin O'Malley joined Mayor Rawlings-Blake in announcing the City's infant mortality rate fell by 19 percent in 2010. The African American infant mortality rate fell by 21 percent, while the white rate remained relatively stable, yet significant disparities between the two remain. Additionally, unsafe sleep-related deaths dropped 40 percent compared to the previous year. Preliminary 2011 data indicates a sustained downward trend in infant deaths due to unsafe sleep environments.

Healthy Baltimore 2015, the City's health policy agenda, calls for decreasing the rate of infant mortality as a means of promoting healthy children and adolescents.

"We are cautiously optimistic the hard work of educating pregnant women, new mothers and fathers and caretakers is paying great dividends in the form of fewer infant deaths," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

The new funding will be used by to provide oversight of the two targeted community programs, Upton Druid Heights and Patterson Park North & East. Both communities have historically high rates of infant mortality. It will also be used to support expanded service provider outreach, policy and systems change, and the citywide communication campaign.

"Improving child and maternal health is one of the focal points of our efforts to address health care needs in Baltimore and throughout the region we serve," said Maria Harris Tildon, CareFirst Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Community Affairs. "Our partnership with Mayor Rawlings-Blake, the City Health Department and the Family League helps remove social and economic barriers that often prevent mothers from getting the care they need and from accessing services that are critical to give babies a healthy start in life."

"We are grateful to CareFirst for its strong support for the B'more for Healthy Babies initiative," said Kevin Keegan, President and CEO of the Family League of Baltimore City, which partners with the Baltimore City Health Department on the program. "This initiative has reached countless moms, dads, caregivers and others across the City, providing them with critically important information about leading healthy lives and raising healthy babies. This has been a strong public-private partnership that is improving lives in Baltimore."

The first phase of the campaign promoted the "ABCs" of infant safe sleeping, alone, on the back and in a crib. A second campaign launched last fall aims to improve birth outcomes by encouraging people to "Just Hold Off" on smoking around infants and pregnant women. Campaign goals include:

  • Targeting fathers and other caregivers with safe sleep messages.
  • Identifying and linking underserved pregnant women and their children to community-based programs and to find them medical homes.
  • Increasing the percentage of women who report quitting smoking during pregnancy. Tobacco use during pregnancy is associated with a 10 percent increase in excess infant mortality.
  • Enrolling more women in evidence-based home-visiting programs.
  • Providing support materials and contraceptive counseling to clients newly eligible under the Maryland Family Planning Works Act.

The Health Department and Family League of Baltimore have leveraged CareFirst's support to raise $3.3 million in additional grant funding for the B'more for Healthy Babies initiative.

The Board of Estimates is slated to approve the grant this morning.

For more information on the B'more for Healthy Babies campaign, visit www.HealthyBabiesBaltimore.com.

About CareFirst
In its 75th year of service, CareFirst, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is a not-for-profit health care company which, through its affiliates and subsidiaries, offers a comprehensive portfolio of health insurance products and administrative services to 3.4 million individuals and groups in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. In 2011, CareFirst contributed $51 million to community programs designed to increase the accessibility, affordability, safety and quality of health care throughout its market areas. To learn more about CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, visit our web site at www.carefirst.com or follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CareFirst_News.

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