Representatives from several local agencies have joined together to push back the disturbingly high rate of infant mortality in Pottawatomie County.

Representatives from several local agencies have joined together to push back the disturbingly high rate of infant mortality in Pottawatomie County.

In strategic planning meetings that began in November, advocates for infant health have been looking at ways to bring those numbers down. On Friday, members from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Fetal and Infant Mortality Review, Pottawatomie County Health Department, Gateway to Prevention & Recovery, Neighboring 101 and Tecumseh Early Head Start were in attendance.

Going by recent data, health department officials were aiming at education and awareness regarding safe sleep for infants. But, on Friday, the task force adjusted its plan because more specific data had since been released — showing that none of the eight Pottawatomie County infant deaths in 2016 (this does not include deaths that have any type of litigation tied to them) was sleep-related.

Though safe sleep is still an issue and needs continued attention, she said data showed other issues were to blame regarding 2016 deaths.

According to data reviewed by the Pottawatomie County Infant Mortality Review Board, three of the deaths were caused by congenital anomalies, three were stillborn and two were premature births.

Jessi Ryel, partnership consultant with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said the lack of prenatal care plays a large role in infant mortality.

The group hopes to work with St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital to expand the number of families who attend its free prenatal classes.

“We want to encompass all of the issues related to infant death,” she said.

Also, Ryel said of the infants who died:

• four of the mothers experienced depression (mental health issues)

• one of the mothers was involved in substance abuse

• five of the mothers used tobacco

“These are all preventable causes,” she said. “Use of tobacco can cause prematurity, lack of development of the respiratory system and many other issues.”

The task force also discussed ways to spread awareness and training through social media, traditional media and health fairs.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.