INDIANA, Ind. (WLFI) - After his bill failed last legislative session, State Senator Ron Alting is authoring a pregnancy accommodations bill again this year with Senate Bill 246. This is an effort to lower Indiana's high infant and maternal mortality rate.
And if he has learned anything in his 23 years of serving District 22 in the Indiana Senate, it's this:
"The key is being persistent, persistent and persistent and that's what I'm doing once again," he said.
According to data from 2018, 6.8 Hoosier babies died for every 1,000 live births. That number is down from a peak at 7.5 in 2016.
Sen. Alting is not alone in his persistence. Governor Eric Holcomb named it as one of his priorities again this year in his state of the state address. During his address in 2018, he said his goal was to make Indiana the best in the Midwest in terms of the rate by 2024.
"The bill ask for changes in the workplace that will be common sense changes, and will not cost businesses one penny," said Sen. Alting. "But they do it because it's the right thing to do."
The bill outlines 12 accommodations, including seating, breaks for pumping breast milk and unpaid time off to recover from childbirth. CEO of the Indiana Rural Health Association Cara Veale said there may be stigma around pregnancy in the workplace. See photo.
"How many feel like they wouldn't be supported within their workplace if they disclose their pregnancy and then requested things like light duty and or modified work requirements? It is important," she said.
Veale said that while every mom and baby case is unique, some overarching reasons that contribute to Indiana's high infant and maternal mortality rates include lack of access to quality health care, cultural shame around pregnancy out of wedlock and financial issues.
IRHA is helping moms in counties with the highest infant mortality rates with the Healthy Start Communities that C.A.R.E Program, which is a grant funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration. The counties they serve are in southern Indiana: Daviess, Dubois, Martin and Greene. Joanah Wischmeier runs the program.
“Our only eligibility requirement is the women be of childbearing age and live within the counties we serve. In addition to women, our program can also serve fathers as well as infants up to 18 months of age who also reside in the specified counties,” she said. “Program participants receive navigation through our program from perinatal navigators and community health workers where various needs are addressed. In addition, women identified as at-risk/high-risk also have the opportunity to be referred to a Healthy Start provider for specialized care. Program participants receive services in the preconception or family-planning phase, throughout pregnancy and post-partum and also to include infants through their first 18 months of life. Healthy Start services include but are not limited to case management services, education, referrals, and increasing access to care.”
From physical and mental health checks, helping getting insurance or access to supplies. Veale and Wischmeier said they are seeing progress in the counties they are serving 1200 participants in the program in 2020.
"If they need diapers or if they need stuff dropped off on their front porch or they need other means of help, we can connect them with other resources in the community," said Wischmeier.
They've had to change gears a lot due to the pandemic, forcing them to do more front porch deliveries and check-ups via zoom, but Wischmeier said it's been successful.
"We've seen some great improvements but we are by no means where we want to be," said Veale. "Zero is the number that we strive for."
Sen. Alting said adding his bill to women's arsenal will only help.
"It will save mothers and children in the state of Indiana," he said.
The bill so far has bipartisan support. It's been co-authored by two republicans and two democrats. It is currently set to go before the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee for a first reading.