CityBeat Blogs - Health http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-239.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.

But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.

Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.

The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.

Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.

Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.

Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.

Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.

Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.

The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.

A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.

Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s infant mortality rates dropped to record lows in 2013, but the city and county’s rates of infant deaths remain far above the national average. Over the past five years, the city’s infant mortality rate hit 12.4 deaths per 1,000 live births and the county’s rate reached 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. In comparison, the national average in 2011 was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative initiative formed in 2013, pointed to three possible factors to explain the troubling rates: short time between pregnancies, maternal smoking during pregnancy and poor sleeping habits, including deaths that could be easily prevented by ensuring a baby sleeps alone, on his or her back and in a crib.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman yesterday proposed fixes for Cincinnati’s ailing pension system, and the proposal includes a hit to city retirees’ benefits. Unique to Smitherman’s plan is a new $100 million commitment to help shore up the city’s unfunded liability of $870 million, but Smitherman could not say where council would get that much money. Otherwise, the proposal would freeze cost of living increases in the system for three years and reduce future cost of living increases from a 3 percent compounded rate to a 2 percent fixed rate, among other changes. Smitherman hopes to get up-or-down votes on his plan within the next two weeks, even if it requires splitting the plan into multiple parts.

State Sen. Bill Seitz plans to renew his efforts in the Ohio legislature to dismantle the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. Seitz says “devastating testimony” in support of his bill should invigorate a push for his plan. But the testimony will apparently be based off a flawed industry-financed report released yesterday. A separate study, based on an economic model from the Ohio State University, found Ohio’s energy standards will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Cincinnati plans to begin marketing an 18-acre plot of land in Lower Price Hill to bring 400 jobs to the struggling neighborhood. After the city finishes environmental remediation this month, it hopes to put the property on the market. CityBeat previously covered some of Lower Price Hill’s struggles with poverty in further detail here.

The gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald tightened from seven points in November to five points this month, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. But the survey did not include Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl as a choice — an omission that could work to Kasich’s favor in the polling results.

Gay families are being excluded from Obamacare benefits in Ohio and other states in which same-sex marriage is not recognized. That means Ohio’s gay families can’t get financial benefits going to traditional families to help them get covered. President Barack Obama’s administration says it’s aware of the issue, but it doesn’t plan a fix until next year.

Some Ohio lawmakers want an investigation into Kasich’s administration after documents showed his administration planning to work with oil and gas companies to promote fracking in state parks and forests. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. CityBeat covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

Bad news: A Chinese firm won’t bring an $80 million project to the Cincinnati area after all.

An Ohio driver rescued a kitten found frozen on the road.

A parasite commonly found in cats can now be found in arctic beluga whales. Scientists say melting ice barriers — a symptom of climate change — explains the pathogen’s increased migration.

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<![CDATA[Local Infant Mortality Rates Still Far Above National Average]]>

Cincinnati and Hamilton County saw infant mortality rates drop to the lowest on record in 2013, but the city and county’s rates for infant deaths remained far above the national average, according to a report released Tuesday by advocacy group Cradle Cincinnati.

In 2013, the city saw 53 babies die before their first birthday, or 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Throughout the county, the deaths of 95 babies put the rate at 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

But in the past five years, the city’s infant mortality rate hit 12.4 deaths per 1,000 live births and the county’s rate reached 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Even worse, black families in Hamilton County were twice as likely as white families to have a baby die before his or her first birthday.

In comparison, the national average for infant mortalities was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011.

To help reduce the region’s high infant mortality rates, Cradle Cincinnati points to a few potential targets:

• Short pregnancy spacing, meaning 18 months or fewer between births, can lead to premature birth. It was associated with 33 percent of the county’s infant mortalities last year.

• Maternal smoking during pregnancy can lead to premature birth and birth defects. It was associated with 15 percent of the county’s infant mortalities last year.

• The local rate of sleep-related infant deaths in Hamilton County is triple the national average. Many of these deaths could be prevented by ensuring a baby sleeps alone, on his or her back and in a crib, Cradle Cincinnati found.

Cincinnati’s high rate of infant mortalities are one of the many factors that help explain the city’s disparities in life expectancies, according to Cincinnati Health Department officials.

A CityBeat analysis of U.S. Census Bureau and Cincinnati Health Department data also tied neighborhood life expectancies to income levels. The strong correlation could suggest a connection between poverty and earlier death.

Through the Cradle Cincinnati initiative established last year, local officials hope to put an end to the disturbing trends.

“We are cautiously optimistic that these numbers are going down, but we still have a very long way to go,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, founder and co-chair of Cradle Cincinnati, in a statement. “We cannot rest until every child born in Hamilton County lives to see his or her first birthday.”

Cradle Cincinnati’s full report:

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<![CDATA[Obamacare Enrollment Improves]]>

The federal government reported slightly better numbers in January for Obamacare’s once-troubled online marketplaces, but Ohio and the nation still fall far short of key demographic goals.

For the first time since HealthCare.gov’s glitch-ridden rollout, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) numbers show the amount of new enrollees actually beat projections. About 1,146,100 signed up for Obamacare in January, slightly higher than the 1,059,900 previously projected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

More importantly, a small boost in young adults means 25 percent of 3.3 million enrollees across the nation and 21 percent of 60,000 Ohio enrollees were aged 18 to 34. That’s up 1 percentage point for the nation and 2 percentage points for Ohio.

The White House previously said 39 percent of enrollees need to be young adults, who tend to be healthier, to avoid driving up health care costs by filling the insurance pool with older, sicker people who typically use more resources.

HHS’ numbers only reflect people who signed up for a health plan, not people who paid for their first premium, which is widely considered the final crucial step to getting covered.

Nearly nine in 10 single, uninsured young adults could qualify for financial assistance through the health care law or free Medicaid, which expanded eligibility in Ohio through Obamacare, according to HHS. 

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

For the third time, a representative from the federal government yesterday reiterated to Cincinnati officials that if the $132.8 million streetcar project is canceled, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left to the discretion of the state government, which could allocate the money anywhere in Ohio. The repeated reminders are necessary as Mayor-elect John Cranley and the incoming City Council prepare to delay or potentially terminate the project once they take office in December. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter said even a mere delay could lead to the federal government restricting or outright terminating the federal grant deals. But Cranley, a long-time opponent of the streetcar project, appeared unfazed by the news at a press conference following Carter's thorough explanation. "If we have to, we’ll give the money back," he said.

Cranley yesterday announced his intent to appoint Councilman-elect David Mann as his vice mayor. Cranley said Mann passed the "bus test," an unfortunate hypothetical scenario in which the mayor dies after being hit by a bus. Cranley also cited Mann's numerous accomplishments, ranging from achievements at Harvard University to previous stints as mayor when top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position. Mann promised to work with Cranley to make his administration a success and respectfully disagree but move on when the two men differ.

A Cincinnati Health Department report found life expectancy can vary by 20 years from one part of Cincinnati to another. Black men in particular can expect to live nearly 10 years less than white men. The Health Department said in a press release that it wants to find out why there's such a disparity.

A Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Gov. John Kasich still ahead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a 44 to 37 percent match-up, but FitzGerald is gaining ground. About 71 percent of Ohioans in the poll said they don't know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him, so FitzGerald still has time to build positive name recognition while Kasich has an opportunity to paint his opponent in a negative light before the November 2014 election.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters might be investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for improperly voting.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cancel an automatic recount of the Nov. 5 vote, which Quinlivan was entitled to after she placed 10th place in the City Council race by only 859 votes.

The grand jury for the Steubenville, Ohio, rape investigation indicted four people, including a school superintendent.

Four Ohio corrections officers were fired over the escape of an inmate serving a life sentence for rape, officials announced Monday.

The University of Cincinnati is aiming for an attendance record when it hosts Louisville for a Dec. 5 game at Nippert Stadium.

The deadline to select Medicare coverage is Dec. 7 at midnight.

Scientists could be on the verge of learning how to erase and rewrite memories.

Morning News and Stuff will most likely be out of service until Monday, Dec. 2 as CityBeat staff celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday.

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<![CDATA[Bill Would Stop Insurers From Offering Abortion Coverage]]> Union Township Rep. John Becker doesn't exactly have a history of standing up for causes CityBeat agrees with, and this week we're seeing more of the same.

He's the voice behind another Republican-backed bill introduced Nov. 14, that, if passed, would introduce regulations that would ban most public and private health insurance policies, including Medicaid, from covering abortion care and several common methods of contraception.

According to a press release from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, H.B. 351 would manipulate language on the Ohio Revised Code to redefine abortion services and restrict public hospitals from performing abortions — even on women whose lives are at risk due to the pregnancy or who have been victims of rape.

NARAL Executive Director Kellie Copeland commented, "Imagine facing a life-threatening pregnancy complication and being told that your insurance won’t cover the procedure because Ohio politicians banned that coverage. Imagine becoming pregnant as the result of a rape, and having to cover the cost of an abortion out of pocket because this bill became law. It’s unthinkable."

Also introduced on Wednesday to U.S. Congress was the Women's Health Protection Act, what supporters are calling a historic pro-choice bill that would outlaw states' authority to limit women's reproductive rights by prohibiting states from passing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose extra regulations on doctors who operate in medical practices that perform abortions. The bill, which will likely face harsh odds in the U.S.'s conservative-dominated House, wouldn't completely diminish states' existing anti-abortion laws, although it require judges to be more carefully reconsider cases that challenge the legality of already-existing laws.

Becker's bill has yet to be assigned to a committee. Here's the bill in full.

As one of the self-proclaimed "most conservative" members of his party, he's also a cosponsor of the state's Heartbeat Bill and once called the proposal of a needle-exchange program, which could reduce the spread of infectious bloodborne diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, the product of a "liberal media agenda."

In August, Becker introduced a bill that would kick a large chunk of pregnant women and low-income parents off of Medicaid by grossly lowering the entry eligibility.

Becker also recently lobbied for the impeachment of the judge who allowed the state to legally recognize the marriage of Jim Obergefell and his 20-year partner, John Arthur, who recently passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease, for his decision.
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<![CDATA[Two New Domestic Violence Laws Join Others in Ohio House ]]>

Two bills discussed today at a hearing of the Ohio House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee would, if passed, offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence and extend them more legal rights to protect their employment, housing and financial livelihood.

Those bills will join H.B. 243 and H.B. 160, which are still awaiting hearings before the judiciary committee and would, respectively, require individuals served with temporary protection orders to surrender their firearms and offer legal protection to the pets of domestic violence victims — often cited as a reason victims have difficulty leaving a violent situation.

Most significant are the changes that would be implemented by H.B. 297, first introduced to the Ohio House in October by Reps. Ann Gonzales (R-Westerville) and Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati). The bill outlines new legal protections for domestic violence victims who need to terminate a rental agreement or take unpaid leave at work in order to deal with domestic violence incidences.

Under the bill, victims of domestic violence would be legally protected against termination at work and have the ability to dissolve a rental lease if the tenant has been a victim of domestic violence. The bill would also prohibit landlords from kicking out tenants because they've been victims of domestic violence at the residence and requires them to comply with requests to change locks when a tenant has been a victim of stalking or menacing. 

H.B. 309, also introduced in October, by Reps. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), would dissolve any charges related to modifications made to a domestic violence, anti-stalking or other type of protection order or consent agreement

In August, CityBeat spoke with domestic violence victim Andrea Metil, who talked about her personal experiences with legal trip-ups that made protecting herself from her attacker difficult. Metil called for stronger legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.

This is the first hearing for both of the bills.

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<![CDATA[National Drug Take-Back Day Set for Tomorrow ]]>

If your medicine cabinet could use a good fall cleaning, think about de-cluttering tomorrow during National Drug Take-Back day so you can properly dispose of the pills and make sure they don't get into the wrong hands. 

The local prescription take-back is sponsored by the Hamilton Country Sheriff Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Prescription drug abuse is a rampant public safety and health issues, and take-back programs are one of a number of public health measures communities can take to reduce prescription drug abuse in their neighborhoods.

Even flushing the pills down the toilet poses its own risks; the chemicals could make their way into our water supplies. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that fish have suffered serious deformities from pharmaceutical-tainted water supplies, and it could affect humans, too, although the research isn't strong enough to draw any solid conclusions yet. 

There are three locations around the city where you can bring old prescriptions (all locations are open from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.):

  • Miami Township Community Center, 3780 Shady Lane, North Bend, OH 45052
  • Symmes Township Safety Center, 8871 Weekly Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45249
  • Anderson Center, Five Mile Road, Cincinnati, OH 45230

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 20 percent of people in the United States have used prescription drugs for reasons other than which they were prescribed. In 2010, 7 million Americans abused a prescription drug; pain relieving medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin are the most commonly abused drugs.

Unintentional drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in Ohio. The state has experienced a 440 percent growth rate in accidental overdose deaths from 1999 to 2011.

According to DrugAbuse.gov, teenagers are especially likely to abuse medications because of their easy accessibility and a lack of awareness about the consequences of abuse.

Needles, IV bags and radioactive medicines will not be accepted.

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<![CDATA[National Reporting Project to Examine Accessibility of Plan B ]]> The right to obtain emergency contraception is one that was only recently granted to all women of child-bearing age, marking a huge national victory for women's health rights over conservative political agendas.

But now that's it's available over-the-counter, is it really easy to access?

According to the Reproductive Justice Reporting Project, it depends on where and who you are.

The project, a newly-formed coalition comprising a number of alternative news publications under the umbrella of the Association of Alternative News Media (AAN) and the Media Consortium, part of a larger initiative to "study how independent news organizations can work together to create a collective impact," according to AAN.

The newest component of the project — "
Where Is Your Plan B?" — is a website that uses crowd-sourced data to monitor the availability of emergency contraceptives across the country. 

News outlets collaborating on the project include Austin Chronicle, Bitch Magazine, In These Times, LEO Weekly, Making Contact/National Radio Project, Ms. Magazine, People*Power*Media, Portland Mercury, Public News Service and Santa Fe Reporter.

Once the site gets a little more press, it will start publishing detailed maps documenting which pharmacies are readily providing Plan B, where it might be illegally restricted and where it's available but possibly made more difficult to obtain by roadblocks. For now, you can also find a thorough collection of investigative works from the Reproductive Justice Reporting Project from its participating news outlets, chronicling everything from how Native American women are being actively denied fair access to Plan B and women's access to abortion in New Mexico.

Plan B One-Step was first approved in July 2009 for use without a prescription for women only ages 17 or older; women younger than 17 were previously required to obtain a prescription.

In April, Judge Edward Korman ruled that the age restrictions on over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception were "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." His ruling prompted the FDA to announce Plan B One-Step's availability to women 15 and older without a prescription, which was in June amended to include women of child-bearing age.

Many women's health advocates have expressed concerns about how pharmacies are restricting accessibility to the drug, such as asking for identification even though the FDA doesn't require it or keeping the drug locked up or behind a counter, which could be a daunting barrier for some young girls, making an already unpleasant experience worse.

Commonly known as the "morning-after pill," Plan B is intended to be used when other methods of contraception fail. In extreme cases, it can be a rape victim's only option to prevent becoming pregnant.

The drug, which contains powerful levels of hormones found in some types of birth control pills, is more effective the more quickly it's taken after having unprotected sex, particularly within three days. That means having to obtain a prescription could null the effects of the pill or render it ineffective for a young woman struggling to get a doctor's appointment.

A research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2012 found that of several pharmacies called in five different cities, 20 percent did not have emergency contraception in stock on the same day the patient called.

Visit your local pharmacy and fill out the form here.

Where is Your Plan B? from altweeklies on Vimeo.

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<![CDATA[Ohio House Votes to Authorize Syringe-Exchange Programs]]>

The Ohio House yesterday offered overwhelming support for a bill that would authorize local health boards across the state to establish syringe-exchange programs with fewer roadblocks, which could pave the way for Cincinnati to establish myriad programs across its neighborhoods most afflicted by intravenous drug use and bloodborne pathogens.  

House Bill 92, sponsored jointly by Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Rep. Barbara Sears (R-Sylvania), would remove a restriction that stipulates programs can only be implemented when a local health emergency has been declared and lays out mandates for programs to protect the rights and educate the intravenous drug users who take advantage of the programs. 

Syringe exchange programs have been the privy to significant controversy; opposers say that offering addicts the tools they need to fuel drug habits ultimately fuels destructive habits and sends the wrong message to drug abusers. 

What’s helped turn the issue non-partisan, however, is overwhelming data supporting claims that the program saves lives. In 2004, the World Health Organization published a study on the effectiveness of syringe programming in reducing HIV/AIDS that found a “compelling case that (needle-exchange programs) substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among (injection drug users) and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” 

Adam Reilly, who is an HIV project manager for a local healthcare provider, says that a syringe exchange program is already in the works for Springdale; the location is expected to open in about a month. He says that project has been seven years in the making because of how entangled efforts to establish the program become in bureaucracy. Establishing a program is particularly laborious, he explains, because it requires citywide cooperation — including law enforcement — which has proven to be a challenge for programs in other states, where police officers are prone to harass participants entering or leaving an exchange facility.

The current bill would essentially take the issue out of the political arena, Reilly says, and thrust the responsibility onto health departments. The city of Cincinnati in 2012 already declared a public health emergency following significant proof of a citywide HIV/Hepatitis C epidemic sourced primarily from heroin abuse.

Cincinnati's now-defunct nonprofit agency STOP AIDS found through focus groups that the majority of intravenous drug users are Caucasian middle-aged males; 145 of 147 study subjects reported using ineffective methods to clean used equipment. Their data estimates that 4,000-6,000 people locally are currently living with HIV/AIDS.

STOP AIDS also estimated that spending $385,000 per year on a syringe exchange program has the potential to save nearly $50 million annually in health costs generated from contracting HIV or HCV infections.

To make the program as effective as possible, Reilly says other exchange programs offer participants assurance in writing that their identities will be protected; the House bill also says that future programs wold be required to encourage drug users to seek medical, mental health or social services, also offer counseling and other educational requirements.

The bill has been assigned to a Senate committee, where it will go through another vote and, if passed, will require Gov. John Kasich's signature to become law.  ]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

The ongoing federal government shutdown is keeping thousands of Ohioans from going to work. The federal government closed its doors yesterday after House Republicans refused to pass a budget that doesn’t weaken Obamacare and Senate Democrats and the White House insisted on keeping President Barack Obama’s signature health care law intact. Without a budget, non-essential federal government services can’t operate.

As part of a broader campaign to reduce Cincinnatis high infant mortality rate, the city yesterday launched another effort that aims to educate parents in the city’s most afflicted zip codes on proper ways to put their babies to sleep. According to the Cincinnati Health Department, 36 babies died from unsafe sleeping conditions between 2010 and 2011. Cradle Cincinnati plans to help prevent these deaths by reminding parents that babies should always sleep alone, in a crib and on his or her back. The education effort is just one of many to reduce Cincinnati’s infant mortality rates, which in some local zip codes have been worse than rates in third-world countries.

Ohioans who tried to use Obamacare’s online marketplaces on opening day yesterday likely ran into some website errors, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is asking participants for patience as they work out the glitches, which appear to be driven by overwhelming demand. The problems weren’t unexpected, given that software launches are often mired in issues that are later patched up. “We’re building a complicated piece of technology, and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at a Sept. 30 briefing.

Domestic violence arrests in 2012 were down from the previous year, but law enforcement officials say they need more help from lawmakers to bring down the number, which remained above 41,000, even further. Officials claim a law on teen dating violence, which, among other things, allows protective orders on accused abusers who are under 18 years old, has helped, but advocates argue protections need to be strengthened. CityBeat covered the advocates’ efforts in further detail here.

The Ohio Libertarian Party asked lawmakers at a hearing yesterday to loosen restrictions in a bill that seeks to limit ballot access for minor political parties. The bill, which is sponsored by State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), requires minor parties to gather an estimated 100,000 signatures every two years to remain on the ballot, which Libertarians say would be difficult and expensive. Instead, Libertarians would like that provision to require the signatures every four years. Libertarians also asked lawmakers to allow voting thresholds, which give minor parties automatic recognition in Ohio if they get 3 percent or more of the vote, to apply to more than the gubernatorial race. Seitz said he’s open to the changes.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced yesterday that the Bureau of Criminal Investigation exceeded its goal of testing 1,500 rape kits in the program’s first year. In total, the agency has tested 1,585 out of 4,053 submitted kits. The program allows local and state law enforcement to analyze and match DNA evidence to verify criminal allegations. So far, it has led to 505 DNA matches.

Cincinnati could make an offer by the end of the year for a currently unused section of the Wasson Way railroad line that the city plans to convert into a five-mile bike and hike trail.

Three more downtown buildings will house apartments. Although the buildings aren’t directly on the streetcar route, the developer said that public transportation, along with bicycles, will play an important role in promoting the apartments because they won’t have dedicated parking.

The Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council is offering an energy benchmarking toolkit that allows small and medium-sized businesses to see how they can improve their environmental performance.

Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati is the No. 1 hospital for delivering babies in Ohio.

The number of induced abortions in Ohio rose between 2011 and 2012 but ended up at the second lowest levels since 1976, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is putting more than $3 million toward purchasing new vehicles and equipment that should help elderly and disabled residents across the state.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first “artificial pancreas” to help diabetics better monitor and control their insulin levels.

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<![CDATA[City Launches Continuing Effort to Reduce Infant Mortality ]]> Another effort to reduce Cincinnati's alarmingly high infant mortality rates launched today, which local leaders hope will help educate first-time parents in the city's most afflicted zip codes on proper ways to put their infants to sleep.

The new city coalition created to address infant deaths, coined Cradle Cincinnati, announced an educational effort to address infant deaths from improper sleeping habits.

According to the Cincinnati Health Department, 36 babies died from unsafe sleeping conditions between 2010-2011. The campaign addresses simple "ABCs" of safe baby sleep to stop infant mortality deaths that otherwise could have been prevented. The most important things to remember, according to the campaign, are that infants should always sleep alone, in a crib and on his or her back. The health department provides other helpful tips here    

It's another step forward in addressing a concern that plagues neighborhoods across the city. Some Cincinnati zip codes in the past have held higher infant mortality rates than those of third-world countries.

The campaign is also donating 1,000 onesies to area birth hospitals that read "This Side Up" on the stomach — a friendly safety reminder to new parents. Kroger is also partnering with the campaign by helping to spread the tenets of the campaign in diaper and baby food aisles at local stores.

According to a Cincinnati.com editorial by Noble Maseru, Cincinnati’s health commissioner, the recent efforts have been working. He says the city’s 2013 infant mortality rates are projected at 6.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, a 52 percent reduction in fatalities that brings the city drastically closer to the national average. 

Previously, the infant mortality rate in Cincinnati was more than double the national average: 13.3 babies out of 1,000, compared with 6.1 deaths per 1,000 nationally.

In June, the city of Cincinnati announced the community partnership spearheaded by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune to lower infant mortality rates, uniting health experts, political leaders and some nonprofits to share ideas and best practices to better overlap city efforts. 

University of Cincinnati Health president and CEO Jim Kingsbury agreed to offer the new collaboration initial funding from the county’s sale of Drake Hospital.

Mayor Mark Mallory also entered the city into a contest in February to earn a grant to expand the city's Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which monitored the pregnancies of new mothers in high-risk areas across the city with an updated database. The city's entry was a finalist, but ultimately didn't win a grant.

Today, the Infant Mortality Surveillance Network still works with both University Hospital and Christ Hospital to collect data on new mothers from zip codes with the worst infant mortality rates and provides them with information, education, depression screening and home care help, if needed.

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<![CDATA[Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Loses Obamacare Money]]>

Limitations imposed by Ohio lawmakers who oppose the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) have forced Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to give up a $124,419 federal grant that would have gone toward helping uninsured Ohioans navigate new online marketplaces for health insurance.

Specifically, the state law, which Gov. John Kasich signed on April 30 and went into effect on July 30, excludes any organization that receives payments from a health care payer, such as an insurance company, from being designated as a “navigator.”

The designation is necessary for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to receive the federal grant, which is part of national outreach efforts to enroll as many Americans, especially young adults, into Obamacare’s online marketplaces when they open for enrollment on Oct. 1.

Without the designation, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was forced to give up the federal money, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital spokesperson Terry Loftus told CityBeat.

State legislators passed the restrictions to clarify regulations on navigators that avoid potential abuses and conflicts of interest.

But Obamacare’s supporters claim the state law is part of a nationwide effort from state and federal Republicans to make Obamacare more difficult to implement.

The federal government intends to sign up 7 million people into Obamacare’s online marketplaces, but 2.7 million have to be young adults to keep costs low. Otherwise, older, less healthy Americans will fill up the marketplaces, exhaust health services and drive up costs.

Supporters of Obamacare acknowledge that signing up so many young adults will be difficult, so they’ve taken to national and state-by-state education campaigns that tell young adults about the benefits and cost savings made available through the president’s signature health care law. These campaigns are being headed by various organizations that have been dubbed “navigators.”

But opponents, particularly Republicans, are preventing some of the efforts by investigating navigators and passing legislation in state governments that limits what navigators can do and who can be classified as a navigator.

Most recently, Republicans in the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to groups participating in the navigator program with a series of accusations and questions.

“This is a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years,” Erin Shields Britt, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told The Hill.

For the uninsured, not knowing about the online marketplaces could mean losing out on opportunities to obtain health insurance at lower costs. Recent reports have found that Obamacare’s online marketplaces and tax subsidies will lower costs for Ohioans in the individual health care market.

An Aug. 29 study from the RAND Corporation, a reputable think tank, found health care premiums will rise to an average of $5,312 under Obamacare in 2016. Without the law, premiums would reach an average of $3,973 that year. But when Obamacare’s tax credits are plugged in, the average Ohioan will only pay a premium of $3,131 — $842 less than he or she would pay without the law.

Avik Roy, a conservative health care economist and prominent critic of Obamacare, found even better results for Ohio. His model found premiums will drop by 30 percent in Ohio, although they’ll rise by 24 percent on average for 13 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia as a whole. Unlike RAND, Roy’s calculations don’t take subsidies into account, so the final cost for the average Ohioan is likely much lower.

The numbers only apply to Ohioans in the individual health insurance market. Under Obamacare, individuals will be able to enroll for health insurance through an online marketplace. The majority of Americans who get health insurance through their employers or public programs fall under different rules and regulations.

It’s unclear how much Republican opposition will ultimately play into the numbers. But for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, it means $124,419 less to help its neediest, less knowledgeable patients.

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<![CDATA[Poll: More Than 1.25 Million Ohioans are Uninsured]]>

A poll analysis released today suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans between the ages of 18 and 65 are uninsured, representing about 17 percent of the state’s working-age population.

The poll also found that working-age Ohioans are obtaining health insurance less through employers and more through public insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid and veteran benefits.

About two in 10 working-age Ohioans use public programs in 2013, up from 12 percent in 2006. At the same time, 52 percent now get insurance through an employer, down from 64 percent in 2006.

The numbers are relatively unchanged from 2012, according to the analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

Nearly one in 10 of those who did have insurance also reported losing it in the past 12 months.

“Certain groups are more likely to experience insurance instability,” said Jennifer Chubinski, director of community research at the Health Foundation, in a statement. “Almost half of adults living below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, African-Americans and adults with less than a high school education were uninsured currently or at some point in the past year.”

The analysis also concluded that Ohioans with health insurance are generally healthier than those without it.

The results came from the 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll, which between May 19 and June 2 interviewed 868 Ohio adults by phone. The poll had a margin of error of 3.3 percent. It was conducted by the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research for the Health Foundation.

The poll’s findings could spur efforts to widen Medicaid eligibility in Ohio, which has become a contentious political issue fueled by mostly Republican opposition and Democratic support.

Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), states are asked to expand the public insurance program to include everyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $15,856 for a single-person household. If a state agrees, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion for the first three years then phase its support down to 90 percent, where it would indefinitely remain.

The offer presents a great deal for the state, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. The think tank’s analysis found the expansion would insure roughly half a million Ohioans and generate about $1.8 billion in revenue for the state in the next decade.

But the Republican-controlled General Assembly rejected the expansion in the state budget, despite Republican Gov. John Kasich’s pleas to embrace the Obamacare initiative.

Legislators say they’re concerned the federal government won’t be able to uphold its commitment to Medicaid in the future. That, they argue, would leave Ohioans stranded if the state is forced to pare back benefits.

The federal government and states have jointly funded Medicaid programs around the nation since 1965. About 57 percent of the cost is carried by the federal government.

Still, the legislature will in the fall consider a standalone bill that would take up the expansion. But that bill will likely face continued opposition from tea party groups that are historically opposed to increased government spending at any level.

Whatever the case, legislative approval may be politically prudent: Earlier-reported results from the Ohio Health Issues Poll found 63 percent of Ohioans favor the Medicaid expansion.

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<![CDATA[Report: Ubiquity of Healthy Food Directly Tied to Obesity Rates]]> A report conducted by researchers at East Carolina University in North Carolina, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sheds some interesting light on patterns in the availability of healthy food in different geographic regions and concludes that amping up corner stores that traditionally peddle junk food could be key in improving public health and national obesity rates.

The study focused heavily on the availability of healthy foods such as fresh produce in corner stores across the state in urban, suburban and rural areas. The findings suggest that there are higher rates of obesity in rural areas of the United States than in urban or suburban areas, speculating that because rural residents tend to live farther from supermarkets, they may rely more on junk food from corner stores (like gas stations) or fast food. Where rural areas did have healthy food available, it tended to be of lower quality than other more populated areas.

People aren’t averse to healthy foods, according to the study. When researchers surveyed shoppers and management at rural corner stores, they found a dichotomy in the perception of demand for healthy foods between the two groups. Store managers said they’d be interested in stocking healthy foods, but didn’t think there was a high enough demand to do so; shoppers told researchers they’d be likely to buy produce at a corner store and attributed the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets to the lack of accessibility at the stores they frequented.

Obesity as a result of poor access to healthy food is not just a rural phenomenon, however. Some urban neighborhoods, particularly those that are low-income, also suffer from alarmingly high obesity rates. Avondale, which is considered a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has long been dealing with a severe obesity problem, according to Avondale Community Council President Patricia Milton. CityBeat reported on Cincinnati’s efforts to eliminate food deserts and improve selections at corner stores here.

Obesity is a detrimental public health problem that costs the U.S. approximately $190 billion per year in health care expenses, according to a report from the Harvard School of Public Health. It’s directly associated with harmful health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and overall reductions in life spans.

According to the Harvard researchers, if obesity trends continue, obesity-related medical costs could rise by up to $66 billion by 2030.

University of Cincinnati professor Michael Widener told CityBeat in June about his research to analyze the way a number of different economic and social factors play into eating habits in different geographical regions, which could eventually help paint a better picture of how to establish strong and healthy networks of groceries and possibly improve obesity rates and public health.

The Center for Closing the Health Gap (CCHG), a local nonprofit working toward health equality, is currently working on identifying grocery stores which may be eligible to receive incentivizing funds from the Cincinnati Fresh Food Retail Financing Fund, which could bring grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods such as Avondale.

CCHG is also working on the pilot phases of its Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which could provide corner store owners with the education and technical assistance to start selling more healthful foods.

To find out if where you're living qualifies as a "food desert," click here.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff ]]>

Construction to renovate the former IGA in Clifton's Gaslight district will come to a halt soon, and the future for the building remains uncertain; contractors told the Enquirer they'd finish working on the roof and then pull off the project. Steve Goessling, who purchased the property when it was vacated two years ago, says he plans on continuing to build out the building, but he doesn't have the $4.1 million he needs to make it happen. He recently hired Cassidy Turley to market the property to higher-end grocery chains.

It’s Monday, the most un-fun, unhappy day of the week. But smile: Here are 18 signs you’re doing better than you think.

The attorney general for the state of Missouri, Chris Koster, is talking about bringing back the use of gas chambers on death row inmates because he's worried about the state running out of lethal injection drugs.

Cincinnati had an entire month's worth of rainfall over the past week — 3.75 inches as of Sunday. The norm for July is 3.76 inches.

A near-record algae bloom is ensconcing the popular beaches of a coastal Chinese city with thick, bright green “sea lettuce,” as the locals call it. It’s not harmful to humans, but it does suffocate the marine life and kind of scares away tourists.

Two men with HIV now appear to now be virus-free after they received stem-cell transplants to treat their lymphoma.

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute combed through 18,000 hours of deep-sea video footage and found the ocean seafloor around Monterey Bay is covered in trash.

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<![CDATA[Planned Parenthood Offering Free HIV Testing Today]]>

To honor National HIV Testing Day — a day meant to raise awareness about the virus — Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio region is offering free HIV testing at three locations in the Cincinnati area.

Free HIV testing is available today at from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Cincinnati's VA Medical Center (3200 Vine St.) and from 1-5 p.m. at the Lower Price Hill Health Center (2136 E. Eighth St.). The test is done quickly using a method called rapid HIV testing, which produces results immediately.

About 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV at any given time, and about one in five of those don't even realize they're infected. 

That means those one in five could, at any time, be unknowingly transmitting the disease to their partners, or that they're missing out on taking important preventative measures that could keep the infection from developing into AIDS. The HIV virus is most commonly spread through unprotected sexual contact or sharing needles, or can be passed down from mother to child during pregnancy or shortly after birth. For more basic information about HIV, click here.

In 2012, Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio provided 1,225 HIV tests amongst its eight facilities, among a number of other preventive services. Currently, Planned Parenthood branches across Ohio are being threatened by Ohio conservatives' efforts to defund the organization, which provides myriad health services in addition to abortion, including cancer and STD screenings, birth control, pregnancy testing and health care for both men and women. State and federal funds used by Planned Parenthood aren't used to fund abortions, which are instead funded by private donations.

If successful, the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature could pass a budget this weekend that would put Planned Parenthood at the back of the line for state funds. A separate set of federal funds would also go to crisis pregnancy centers, which have a history of using scare tactics and false information about abortion.

Under Obama's Affordable Care Act, which will go into effect in 2014, insurance providers will be required to cover HIV testing and birth control.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.

CityBeat is also looking to talk to anyone who’s been incarcerated for a drug-related offense in Ohio. If you know someone or are someone interested in talking to us, email glopez@citybeat.com.

An Ohio House bill introduced June 11 would impose harsher restrictions on legal abortions, and some of the requirements may coerce doctors into giving medically inaccurate information. Among other requirements, the bill would force doctors to explain fetal development and supposed risks to inducing an abortion, while pregnant patients would be forced to undergo an ultrasound 48 hours before the procedure. But research has found that, barring rare complications, the medical risks listed in the bill are not linked to abortion.

Local leaders are beginning a collaborative effort to combat Cincinnati's alarmingly high rate of infant mortality. The effort is bringing together local politicians from both sides of the aisle, nonprofit groups and local hospitals. Infant mortality rates are measured by the number of deaths of babies less than one year old per 1,000 live births. In Cincinnati, infant mortality rates are at 13.6, while the national average is six. In previous comments, Mayor Mark Mallory explained his moral justification for increased efforts against infant mortality: "In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate."

State Rep. Alicia Reece, who heads the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, sent a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted yesterday criticizing recent efforts to investigate 39 voter fraud cases in Hamilton County. "It is unfortunate that during the past few years, the focus has been on voter suppression instead of voter access and education," Reece said in a statement. "Many of these voters come from African-American and low-income neighborhoods, and they would benefit from a comprehensive voter education program." CityBeat previously covered the 39 "double voter" cases, which mostly involved voters sending an absentee ballot prior to Election Day then voting through a provisional ballot on Election Day, here.

Mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls, John Cranley, Jim Berns and Stacy Smith squared off at a mayoral forum yesterday. Democrats Qualls and Cranley, who are widely seen as the top contenders, debated the parking plan and streetcar project — both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. CityBeat previously covered the streetcar project and how it could relate to the mayor's race here.

An audit of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) found Ohio's Medicaid program could save $30 million by avoiding fraudulent billing. State officials responded to the audit by highlighting changes in budget plans that supposedly take steps to reduce Medicaid fraud, including Gov. John Kasich's proposal to add five full-time Medicaid auditors to perform additional on-site monitoring in an effort to reduce overpayments.

Ohio lawmakers seem unlikely to approve a federally funded Medicaid expansion, but bipartisan bills introduced in the Ohio House and Senate make sweeping changes to the Medicaid program that aim to lower costs and make the government health care program more efficient. Legislators claim the goal is to bring down costs without reducing services, all while providing avenues for Medicaid participants to move out of poverty. Hearings for the bill will begin next week.

After giving a speech celebrating the resurfacing of a high-speed test track, Gov. Kasich rode a car at 130 miles per hour in a more literal "victory lap."

Scientists are apparently making advancements in helping people regrow limbs.

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<![CDATA[Local Leaders Collaborate to Combat Infant Mortality ]]> Some parts of Cincinnati suffer from higher infant mortality rates than third-world countries. In the city as a whole, infants die at rates more than twice the national average.

We’ve been asking, “Why?” for a long time; this mysterious plague wiping out our infants hasn’t been solved even as our hospitals are recognized worldwide and as it continues to be at the forefront of our public health discussions.

Local politicians, hospitals, health experts and advocates are hoping the answer is one that's been lying in front of them the whole time: collaboration.

Today marked the official conjoining of local politicians, health experts, advocates and Cincinnati’s top hospitals providing birthing services in hopes of working together to reduce the areas’ infant mortality rate to below that of the national average within the next five years.

The new partnership is comprised of Hamilton Country Commissioners Todd Portune and Chris Monzel, who co-chair the effort; the Center for Closing the Health Gap; Mayor Mark Mallory; Councilmember Wendell Young; and hospitals including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital, Mercy Health, TriHealth, UC Health and the UC College of Nursing.

While the hospitals are typically competitors, the disturbing, long-standing statistics Monzel described as an "embarrassment" have fueled area health providers to set aside competition and unite Cincinnati’s top health experts to bring Cincinnati's infant mortality levels below the national average within the next five years.
“We’re checking egos and names and brands at the door,” said Commissioner Portune. "Enough is enough."

Efforts to reduce infant mortality, Portune explained, have been active for years; however, because they've been fragmented — disconnected from one another — establishing best practices just hasn't been possible.

Initial funding comes from an agreement that County Commissioners Portune and Monzel made with Jim Kingsbury, UC Health president and CEO, as part of the county's sale of Drake Hospital.

Representatives plan to meet on a regular basis to share best practices, exchange ideas and report data.


In February, Mayor Mark Mallory entered the city into the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a national competition to inspire city leaders to solve urban problems. His proposal involved the creation of the Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which would have followed new mothers in high-risk areas through pregnancy, creating a database of new mothers and monitoring pregnancies.   

In Mallory’s submission, he put the problem into perspective: “In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital, and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate.”

Although Cincinnati was named one of the top 20 finalists out of more than 305 cities, it was not selected as one of the five to receive up to $5 million in funding to jump-start the initiative.

Infant mortality rates are measured by the number of deaths of babies less than one year old per 1,000 live births. In Cincinnati, infant mortality rates are at 13.6; the national average is 6.

Cincinnati’s black community is especially afflicted by infant mortality. In Ohio, black infants die at more than twice the rate of white infants.

To look at a map of infant mortality rates in Greater Cincinnati by zip code or to read about some of the leading causes of infant mortality, visit the Cincinnati Health Department's website.

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