Start investing early, and the return likely will be all the larger. Russ Pry is putting such thinking to work with his initiative to reduce the infant mortality rate in Summit County. The county executive unveiled the effort last week in his State of the County address. Begin to ease this problem, and you start down a path toward improving the trajectory of many lives.
The reality now is embarrassing. The wealthiest nation in the world, with the highest quality in medicine, has an infant mortality rate far above comparable countries. The rate in the United States is 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, 13.9 for African-Americans. The world’s best is Singapore at 1.92, with Japan (2.62), Finland (2.81), France (3.54) and Germany (3.71) among the leaders.
Summit County has a rate of 7.2 deaths. Pry wants to lower the rate by bringing together community leaders in health care to identify the reasons and craft an effective response. The effort should gather some momentum in June at a summit of Summit County Public Health and into August during the first Summit Kids Month.
The cause is worthy, and it will require dedication and persistence. More, Pry would be aided if county government took full advantage of the charter. The founders of charter government had in mind just such a mobilization to tackle a community problem, the executive taking the lead, armed with the flexibility to direct resources in response. The executive, and those supportive on the County Council, would be held directly accountable by voters for the results.
As it is, charter government here has been compromised, to a much greater degree than the newer version in Cuyahoga County. Pry must contend with independently elected officeholders and social agencies going their own way. Accountability too often is murky. It is all the harder to address large problems, evident recently in the wheel spinning regarding those with mental illness cycling through the county jail. Now in taking on infant mortality, the executive must cope again with the unfulfilled promise of the charter.