Health

Louisville will soon offer mental health care to families enrolled in a program aimed at reducing infant mortality, thanks to a federal grant. The program, called Healthy Start, is for families in lower-income neighborhoods with high rates of infants dying before their first birthday. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving Louisville’s Healthy Start program $143,000 over a five-year period. The money will go to families enrolled in the program who already receive services like fatherhood training, childhood immunizations and general education on raising healthy babies and kids.

Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, said the new social worker will visit families in their homes.

“It’s vitally important for women who may suffer from postpartum depression and for families who have experienced trauma; stigma around mental illness can make women reluctant to seek help outside the home,” Moyer said. “But now we’ll be able to bring these mental health services to them to compliment the range of services we already offer.”

In addition to the in-home social worker, families will also have access to support groups led by social worker Ana’Neicia Williams. Topics will include co-parenting, single parenting, life after giving birth and grief and loss of a child.

“We do a great job of asking women how their body feels during pregnancy and after birth, but we often neglect to assess their psyche,” Williams said. “We will be intentional in screening and using evidence-based practice interventions.”

The federal funding will also go toward workshops for community members not enrolled in the program. Topics might include postpartum depression, adverse childhood experiences and parenting, healing from generational trauma and advocating for quality care in health provider settings.

The Healthy Start program is for families with pregnant women or new babies in neighborhoods that have some of Louisville’s worst infant mortality and life expectancy rates: 40203, 40208, 40210, 40211 and 40212.

City leaders say the  program has been successful. According to the Louisville Department for Public Health and Wellness, between 2013 and 2015, the infant mortality rate — or the number of babies that die before age one — among Healthy Start families was 1.13 per 100,000 live births. That’s 10-times lower than families not in the program but residing in the  same ZIP codes. Louisville’s overall infant mortality rate is 5.3 per 100,000 births. 

“The ZIP code where a child is born must not determine how long he or she will live, or how healthy he or she will be,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “So our Healthy Start program has been working to close this gap.”

The program served 800 families in 2018, and 10,000 since 1998 when Healthy Start began in Louisville, according to Fischer.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.