TALLAHASSEE – 30 years ago Florida ranked third in the nation for the highest infant mortality rate, but thanks in large part to the work of Healthy Start, the state now ranks 28th.
The program, which offers free services to all pregnant individuals in Florida, celebrated its 30th anniversary Wednesday.
Florida’s infant mortality rate has dropped by 32 percent since Healthy Start was created.
That equates to 638 lives saved last year alone.
“That’s approximately 30 kindergarten classes,” said CEO for the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions Cathy Timuta.
Timuta, at an event celebrating the program’s 30th birthday, said the program served more than 129,000 pregnant individuals and 84,000 babies in 2020.
“We’re talking about real people and real families who have been impacted,” said Timuta.
Babies born to parents who received Healthy Start services have an infant mortality rate of less than three per 1,000 births.
That’s more than 50 percent lower than the statewide average of six per 1,000 births.
The program got its start in 1991 under Governor Lawton Chiles.
“Who had a low birthweight grandchild himself,” said Jack Levine, founder of 4Generations Institute.
Levine has been a child advocate for four decades. He said Healthy Start’s impact on the state has been undeniable.
“No state in the nation has had better achievement over these three decades,” said Levine.
One of Healthy Starts’ main missions is to reduce racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality rates.
It was an issue given special attention in the last legislative session.
“It is our biggest challenge as a state and as a Healthy Start program,” said Timuta.
As part of the Legislature’s response, it extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from two to 12 months earlier this year.
It’s a $240 million endeavor Timuta believes will have a major impact.
“More families are going to be able to get services this year through Healthy Start, which is very exciting,” said Timuta.
And Healthy Start advocates said there’s an economic benefit to providing pre and postpartum services.
They claim for every $1 spent, the state saves $10 down the road.