Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, August 13, 2019 11:45 am

Verbatim: Fort Wayne area philanthropists make gift to Riley Children’s Foundation

Donation to fund ongoing support and education aimed to improve infant mortality rates in Allen County

The following was released on Tuesday, August 13, 2019:

INDIANAPOLIS (August 13, 2019)—This morning a press conference was held to discuss Fort Wayne’s infant mortality rates and gifts made by Richard D. Waterfield and Larry Lee, both of Fort Wayne, to Riley Children’s Foundation. Their gifts will fund ongoing support and education aimed to improve Allen County’s infant mortality rate. Their donations sparked additional funding, resulting in a total gift of $400,000 to fund this programing. 

“I am honored to partner with life-long friend and Riley Children’s Foundation champion Dick Waterfield to support Riley’s initiative to dramatically and permanently reduce the scourge of infant mortality in our hometown,” Lee said. 

Indiana has ranked in the bottom tier of states in incidents of infant mortality for nearly two decades (41st nationally). Indiana’s and Allen County’s infant mortality rate is 7.3 deaths per 1,000 births, 25% higher than the national average of 5.8. Some Indiana zip codes have even higher infant mortality rates. Zip code 46806 on the south side of Fort Wayne has an infant mortality rate of 15.4, nearly 3 times the national rate. Unsafe sleep is the most preventable cause of infant mortality and is related to one out of every six deaths (Source: ISDH 2018). 

To improve Allen County’s infant mortality rate, the program funded by these gifts will:

·        Partner with Indiana University School of Medicine caregivers, and community and governmental organizations to bridge gaps preventing safe sleep practices in high risk zip codes.

·        Work with child care programs to provide and improve their quality for infant care and expand resources.

Healthier Moms and Babies, whose goal is to reduce infant mortality and improve the outcome of pregnancy in Allen County by offering health education and case management services to low-income, high-risk pregnant women and their families, will serve as the lead agency for the project locally. This effort in Allen County is modeled after an initiative currently underway in Marion County called Kohl’s Caring For Our Kids, led by Nancy Swigonski, M.D., M.P.H., MBA, a Professor of Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and Whitley Wynns, MA project manager. Since the inception of Kohl’s Caring for Our Kids in August of 2017, also made possible through a donation to Riley Children’s Foundation, 64 child care programs in Indianapolis have been engaged and 22 programs accelerated their advancement in their Paths to Quality rating level. 

“We are so thankful for the support of generous donors like Dick Waterfield and Larry Lee,” Dr. Swigonski said. “Increasing our efforts not only to reach babies and mothers but also the systems that support them is paramount. To have healthy babies, we must have healthy mothers and healthy communities. Multiple partnerships and approaches are needed to make lasting changes to address this complex problem. We want to thank our many partners including our advisory board (Deborah McMahan, M.D., Commissioner of the Allen County Department of Health; Tiffany Bailey and Ruthie Hall of United Way of Allen County; Shannon Gage with Early Childhood Alliance; Sarah GiaQuinta, M.D., with Parkview Health, Paige Wilkins with Healthier Moms and Babies; Mary Hess with Fort Wayne Community Schools; Meg Distler with Saint Joseph Community Health Foundation; Karyn Tomkinson, Ed. D., with Ambassador Impact Investing; Amy Dawson, M.D., Children’s Health Collaborative; and John Pierce, Consultant.) Together, we can reduce the number of children who are dying before their first birthdays.” 

For more information or to make a gift to help combat Indiana’s infant mortality rate, visit BeTheHopeNOW.org.