the Beacon Journal editorial board

Ohio has one of the worst rates of infant mortality in the country. That is especially so for black children who die before their first birthday, 14.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to 2014 data, the most recent available. What is most disheartening is that number increased compared to the previous year.

Parts of Akron have among the highest rates in the state. Fortunately, the city, Summit County and the state have begun to mobilize more effectively to address the problem. The effort must be pursued on multiple fronts, from education about safe sleep and birth spacing to making progesterone and long acting reversible contraception more available.

State Rep. Emilia Sykes recently identified one of the most crucial areas requiring progress. The Akron Democrat introduced House Bill 514. It would require health care professionals to complete instruction in cultural competency in order to receive or renew their license, certification or registration. This follows the thinking of the Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality, which reported its findings and recommendations last month.

Among its conclusions, the commission noted multiple community meetings across the state during which residents repeatedly raised concerns about doctors and other providers failing to keep pace with an increasingly multicultural patient base. Providers do not know their patients well enough. That results in miscommunication and disparities in health outcomes.

Black patients receive different treatment than white patients. For instance, there may be an assumption that black patients cannot pay for the care. Or a lack of appreciation for black doubts about the health care system, echoes of grim passages such as the notorious Tuskegee cruelty still resonating.

The commission cited a recent survey showing that 47 percent of family physicians and obstetrician/gynecologists admitted they held some form of bias. Add that the cancer death rate among blacks is 35 percent higher than whites, and fewer black women receive the surgery, radiation and hormone treatments they need in a timely fashion.

In that way, the infant mortality rate tracks the pattern. Thus, to help in closing the gap, the commission proposed cultural competency training. Doctors would expand ways to upgrade their skills, similar to what lawyers and other professionals face in continuing education. The state Department of Health would engage provider associations to advance awareness among their members. Medical schools and residency programs would make such educational programs part of the curriculum.

Similar legislation long has been pending in the state Senate, put forward by Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat, and championed by Shannon Jones, a Springboro Republican and co-chair of the commission. What has been disappointing is the opposition of doctors, other providers and medical associations. They argue they receive training enough.

Troubling, too, is that beyond the three hearings held last year, the legislation has not been a priority for the Senate Republican leadership.

This resistance comes in defiance of the numbers, that dismaying rate of infant mortality, and what the commission members learned in exploring the problem. Thus, Emilia Sykes is right in applying more pressure in the form of House Bill 514, just as a bill based on the commissionís work is coming. If Ohio is going to reduce infant mortality, it must act on many fronts ó including doctors and other providers getting to know better the patients they treat.