MANSFIELD - Baby boxes are on their way to Richland County.
Members of the Richland County health community met with Richland Source on Wednesday to confirm that at least three community health organizations have signed on to be distribution sites for baby boxes in the near future.
The organizations on board include Richland Public Health, the Mansfield Area Y and the Community Health Access Project (CHAP).
The boxes will be distributed through Baby Box University, the educational companion to The Baby Box Company based in California. Baby Box Company co-founders Jennifer Clary and Michelle Vick visited Mansfield in January to pitch bringing Baby Box University to Richland County.
"We were impressed that so many community leaders came together to work on this initiative to help ensure the best start for new babies," said Vick on Jan. 20. "We are very excited to move forward with our plan to bring baby boxes to Richland County and the rest of Ohio."
The Baby Box Company is modeled after a Finnish tradition that encourages safe sleep, with studies showing an education initiative paired with the boxes has helped Finland achieve one of the lowest rates of infant mortality in the world.
Baby boxes would be one solution to the infant mortality problem in Richland County, identified by OhioHealth Shelby Hospital in June 2016 as one of four significant community health needs that should be addressed.
Between the years 2005 and 2015, there were 14,877 live births in Richland County and 108 deaths, equaling an infant mortality rate of 7.3 infant deaths per 1,000 infants born – only slightly lower than the state’s 10-year rate of 7.6.
Richland Public Health Commissioner Martin Tremmel and Mansfield Area Y CEO Cristen Gilbert said on Jan. 30 that they would be very interested in bringing baby boxes to area mothers. Wednesday's meeting at the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce left Tremmel and Gilbert with concrete steps moving forward.
"The thing that makes this very worthwhile is the universal approach," Tremmel said Wednesday. "The health department can do some, the Y can do some, but we're still not reaching everyone."
Clary explained in the Richland Source solutions journalism series "Healing Hope" that distributing baby boxes across all demographics is crucial to the program's success.
"In our research, universal initiatives benefit more than targeting specific members of the population, like parents at a certain level of poverty or certain demographics,” Clary explained. "If you distribute to everyone equally regardless of economic status, the people who are most vulnerable are more likely to use the intervention properly."
Tremmel on Wednesday emphasized the message that baby boxes are for everyone. Allie Watson of the Richland County Foundation agreed.
"It can't be that only poor babies are dying," Watson said.
Both Watson and Maura Teynor from the Richland County Foundation were present at Wednesday's meeting to express their support in bringing baby boxes to Richland County. The group also discussed other community organizations that could be brought on board as baby box distribution sites, including OBGYN offices, Planned Parenthood, childcare centers or even larger corporations.
"Even if they couldn't be a (box) distribution site, they could at least be a card site," Watson said.
As part of Baby Box University, all those interested in receiving a baby box first receive a membership card with a numerical identification code specific to Richland County and register for free at babyboxuniversity.com. Parents then watch an educational video series lasting 10 to 15 minutes and take a short quiz to get a certificate of completion. They can then choose to collect their box from the closest distribution partner.
Accessibility to online education was one concern addressed by Tremmel, offering the option to complete the online educational syllabus at community libraries, WIC clinics, or the local 211 informational center. Tremmel also explored the idea of Richland Public Health home visit nurses bringing baby boxes to their clients, or at the very least the education.
"We would educate in the home," he said. "I'd like to be able to give them boxes, but we'd have to figure that out."
Tremmel anticipated a slight pushback from the state public health department regarding the use of pack-n-plays, but overall seemed optimistic about introducing baby boxes to Richland County mothers in the very near future.
"The state of Ohio has a significant infant mortality problem," he said. "You have this large investment on the state public health side using public health nurses out in the field; our nurses are taking pack n plays to moms. But (baby boxes) are just another tool in the toolbox."