To the editor:

In response to the Hoosier Editorial printed here a few weeks ago about improving mortality rates:

Like St. Joseph County mentioned in the article, Jay County's infant mortality rate is considerably higher than the state average. That cannot be ignored. The mission of IU Health is to improve the health of our patients and communities, and to do that, we have to look at not only the care provided to our patients while at IU Health Jay but also how to make our community healthier as a whole. 

Our local health system leadership team has recently taken a closer look at what it means to fulfill our mission and vision. Throughout this process, it has become clear that the services we provide may not be making enough of an impact, especially in our rural areas.

Despite the quality care we provide patients through leading edge technology and highly skilled providers, Jay County ranked 85th out of 92 counties in Indiana for health outcomes this year. Some of the saddest and most shocking data we have is in relation to the outcomes of our most vulnerable Jay County residents — our children. 

Of the 291 babies born to Jay County mothers, 21% of those were born to moms who smoked while pregnant. Only 61.9% of these mothers had access to, or chose to obtain, prenatal care while pregnant. It is not surprising, then, that the percentage of Jay County babies born with low birth weight was 10.7 compared to a state average of 8.2% for the same time period. Tragically, the infant mortality rate for Jay County from 2012 to 2016 was 13.7% compared to a state average of 7.1%.

This is simply unacceptable.

While IU Health Jay currently delivers less than 30% of babies born in Jay County, we owe it to our community, and are committed to do more to impact the health and wellness of all babies living in our communities, regardless of where they were born. 

As we look to the future of rural health, the IU Health Jay board of directors and our local leaders are rethinking how to better provide services to our community. In a time when healthcare resources are scarce, we must ensure that we are providing services that meet the healthcare needs of Jay County patients, visitors and families. 

The first step in this journey begins with the aforementioned group of vulnerable patients. We have asked Julie Teeter, lifelong Jay County resident and manager of our mother/baby unit, to coordinate a collaborative, strategic work group to review the services we provide in our community. The workgroup will take a closer look at how IU Health, as the state’s largest comprehensive healthcare provider and a leader in medical education, can work toward improving infant and maternal health outcomes. 

This is just the first step in our plan to redefine rural health in Jay County and beyond. There will be many changes to come, some of which will be challenging, but with our mission and vision in mind and the excellent team we have in place, we are confident that the end result will be a system that improves outcomes for our community and is sustainable for years to come.

Sincerely,

Jerry Whetzel, Jay County health officer

Dave Littler, IU Health Jay board of directors chairman

Dave Hyatt, IU Health Jay president