Tackling Persistent and Large Disparities in Birth Outcomes in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

Published in: Maternal and Child Health Journal (2022). doi: 10.1007/s10995-021-03289-y

Posted on RAND.org on January 05, 2022

by Dana Schultz, Susan L. Lovejoy, Evan D. Peet

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Objectives

Based in Allegheny County, a coalition of local stakeholders took note of the region's infant mortality rates, particularly the stark disparities observed by race, and established a vision to reduce infant mortality in the region. The group undertook a multi-faceted effort to (1) develop predictive models of infant mortality risk; (2) evaluate the effectiveness of available interventions; and (3) combine these tools in order to tailor intervention referrals based on maternal risk profiles. With this effort, the coalition sought to address the apparent disconnect between the region's robust maternal and child health care system and relatively poor birth and infant outcomes and racial disparities.

Methods

The effort started with the integration of data from a variety of sources into an integrated database built specifically for this research effort covering the period 2003 to 2013. With the database, researchers linked each individual's data across multiple data sources, including the Allegheny County Health Department, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Data Warehouse, and individual programs. With these data, we used a standard method for comparing outcomes and measuring the racial disparity between Black and white infants that involved calculating a ratio by dividing the rate or percentage for Black infants by the rate or percentage for white infants.

Results

Overall, the results showed that between 2003 and 2013 in Allegheny County disparities were more pronounced for infant mortality (3.25) than low birthweight (1.88) or preterm birth (1.49). Among the different potential causes of infant mortality, the most pronounced disparity was for SIDS (1.78). Among maternal health factors, pre-pregnancy obesity and gestational diabetes had the highest infant mortality disparity. The low birthweight disparity was similar and lower than the infant mortality disparity across all of the maternal health factors, while the preterm birth disparity was even lower. For the maternal behavioral and contextual factors, the infant mortality disparity ranged from 1.5 to 2.3.

Conclusion

The 11-year span of data reported in the IMPreSIv database and the breadth of intervention data included allowed us to report granular information on birth outcomes within Allegheny County over this time period. The database also allowed us to summarize the various factors associated with the range of birth outcomes and describe the participation rates in the medical and community setting interventions. Against this backdrop of pronounced disparities in birth outcomes across a range of factors, we examined the effectiveness of interventions for women with different risk factors (e.g. substance use disorders) in order to develop a tool to facilitate individualized referrals to the interventions that will help the most for a specific risk profile.

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