Akron Children’s IDs Regional Pediatric Health Priorities

AKRON, Ohio – In its fourth community health needs assessment, Akron Children’s Hospital has identified pediatric health priorities for its service area through 2022.

The three focus areas are improving access to mental health services; improving infant mortality rates, especially in communities of color; and identifying children with asthma and ensuring access to education that can help prevent emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

“We will refine existing strategies and also look for new avenues to address the unmet needs of children within communities we serve,” said Bernett L. Williams, vice president for external affairs for Akron Children’s, in a statement. “This process gives us roadmap we will follow to ensure we remain focused, collaborative and outcomes driven.”

The areas were identified through analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Medicaid Assessment Survey. The Greater Akron portion of the assessment covered Summit, Stark, Portage, Ashland, Richland, Medina and Wayne counties, while the Mahoning Valley portion of the assessment covered Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

In surveys, parents and Parents and caregivers in focus groups repeatedly expressed concern about the trauma experienced by children in their communities as a result of family dynamics, domestic violence, abuse and neglect, parental drug use and parental incarceration. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these adverse childhood experiences can impact a child even into adulthood, affecting long-term mental and physical health, school success, employment, and relationships.

Locally, Akron Children’s will soon open a behavioral health center in the former Youngstown Hearing and Speech building on Southern Boulevard.

Newborn babies in Ohio die before their first birthday at a rate well above the national average. In half of the counties assessed as part of the CHNA, outcomes are even worse than Ohio’s already low benchmark.

Twice as many babies in Ohio die during their first 27 days of life as in the post-natal period. Many of these are born too early, too small, or with other life-threatening health complications. And compared to the overall population, black women who are pregnant are more likely than non-Hispanic, white women to receive prenatal care late in their pregnancies or not at all.

Successful strategies in reducing infant mortality include safe sleep and smoking cessation programs, centering groups, father involvement, maternal depression screening and support, crib giveaways, and education focused on empowering pregnant women, birth spacing, and birth control. 

“There is widespread agreement that addressing the racial disparities in infant mortality is a top concern,” said Williams. “A desire exists among leaders involved in this work to help the wider community understand that infant mortality is a systemic issue tied to poverty and racism and, building from research, should be addressed as such.”

Asthma and respiratory distress are among the most common reasons for visits to the hospital emergency department or urgent care. Symptoms can vary greatly from mild difficulty breathing to life-threatening flare ups.

Akron is one of the 20 “Asthma Capitals of the United States” and is part of the Ohio Valley Asthma Belt, as identified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Akron Children’s will continue efforts to identify children with asthma, making sure they are connected with primary care and specialists in pediatric pulmonology, have access to medication and are adhering to treatment plans. Proactive measures have been proven to reduce ER visits and hospitalizations. Other efforts focus on education and collaborating with community agencies to reduce environmental triggers in the home, such as pet dander, mold, dust mites, and cigarette smoke.

The full community health needs assessment for Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley is available here

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.