Catalyst-gray-horizon

As project enters fifth year, key researcher excited about work to reduce infant mortality

By Tyler Griesenbrock
CATALYST scientific editor

PUBLISHED JUNE 13, 2022

Christine Swoboda An Ohio initiative to reduce infant mortality in the state is seeing real results, according to an evaluation effort spearheaded by researchers with CATALYST – the Center for the Advancement of Team Science, Analytics, and Systems Thinking in Health Services and Implementation Science Research – at The Ohio State University.

The Ohio Equity Institute (OEI) was created in 2012 through the collaboration of state agencies such as the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Medicaid. Its goal was to address racial disparities in birth outcomes; historically, Ohio has recorded a persistent disparity in mortality rates when comparing white and Black infants. In 2018, it began funding community-based organizations (CBOs) to help deliver evidence-based interventions to address this disparity, while also sponsoring an evaluation program to assess the success of the effort.

“The Ohio infant mortality rate has gone down over the past few years,” said Christine Swoboda, PhD, MS, a research scientist with CATALYST. “The providers and funders are seeing real effects.”

As she puts the finishing touches on her annual report and the project enters a new phase this summer, Dr. Swoboda said she is excited about what the OEI-CBO Evaluation Project has recorded so far, as well as what is next for the program.

“I have over 100 organizations from which I’ve been collecting data,” she said. “Our sample size is getting big enough to look at actual outcomes. We have about 40,000 participants across all OEI programs, which is enough to see real change.”

Officials are acting on the analysis that Dr. Swoboda and her colleagues have completed. OEI targets nine urbanized counties across Ohio for outreach and services, and they will soon be joined by a new county. Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Medicaid has chosen to fund CenteringPregnancy group prenatal classes as a standard of care, meaning they will leave the OEI umbrella.

The grant for the evaluation effort has been renewed, and Dr. Swoboda said the evaluation team is continuing to refine the data collection system and data visualizations for sponsors and community organizations. That doesn’t mean, however, that there haven’t been hurdles along the way.

“A lot of these programs took a big hit in enrollment during COVID, especially the group programs. Enrollment is up again, and now the programs are able to meet in person again and have community events,” Dr. Swoboda said. “The organizations are very motivated to collect data right now because they’re all feeling happy that, while COVID is not over ... they can directly provide services.”

There is still more change to come for the OEI-CBO Evaluation Program: Dr. Swoboda said she is looking forward to the opportunity to take over as Principal Investigator for the effort, a role for which she is receiving coaching from current PI Timothy Huerta, PhD, MS, a Professor of Family and Community Medicine and Biomedical Informatics, and a core faculty member with CATALYST.

“I’m excited that I’m taking on a leadership role,” Dr. Swoboda said. “I can show that I am capable and that things get done. It is a group project; we have a lot of people working together on this, and we’ve been able to successfully coordinate for four years now.”

Additional CATALYST team members working on the OEI-CBO Evaluation Project include Daniel Walker, PhD, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine; John Lawrence, ME, Doctoral Candidate; Seth Scarborough, MAS, Research Data Analyst; and CATALYST Executive Director Ann McAlearney, ScD, MS.

That successful coordination has allowed Ohio State’s team to record the real effects that the OEI program is having. Researchers are seeing improved health outcomes within the OEI sample, as well as positive indicators such as more prenatal visits by pregnant people.

“We’re continuing data collection, continuing funding, continuing to help people in the communities get connected to resources,” Dr. Swoboda said. “Everyone is on board now.”

For more information about CATALYST and the work done at the Center, visit https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/departments/catalyst-center