Changing Birth Outcomes in Washington State

With support from RWJF, the infant mortality rate in rural Yakima County fell dramatically, says Gail Weaver, vice president for Continuum of Care at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

    • September 13, 2012

The bad news: The 1979 newspaper story was alarming as it warned families not to deliver their baby in Yakima County in rural, south-central Washington due to the high infant mortality rates, which were 30 percent to 35 percent higher than in the rest of the state. Access to early and regular prenatal care was limited, due to language, transportation, and financial barriers.

The good news: The University of Washington received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to implement the Rural Infant Care Program targeting Yakima County. In 1980 Robert Wood Johnson provided funding to 10 university medical schools in nine states to collaborate with local communities to find appropriate solutions to improve birth outcomes.

Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, the region’s only hospital with advanced obstetric and neonatal services, coordinated local efforts to make a difference for families. Local initiatives included recruiting high-risk perinatal providers, implementing a neonatal transport system, establishing standardized pregnancy risk scoring, facilitating telecommunication consultations, and establishing a coordinated regional perinatal network.

Due to staff support provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, expertise from the University of Washington and the local commitment of health care providers, statistically the infant mortality rate was dramatically and significantly reduced between 1980 and 1985 to levels which were the same or lower than the statewide average. Robert Wood Johnson’s investment continues to reap benefits in Yakima County as the South Central Washington Regional Perinatal Program assures that infant mortality rates remain low. Thank you for starting us on the road to better birth outcomes.

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