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Infant Mortality: Is It, or Isn’t It, a High Priority for Governor Snyder?

fetal-alcohol-spectrum Jims article

A common belief about politicians is that they say one thing and do another, but Rick Snyder told us he “wasn’t a politician.” Snyder also told us that reducing infant mortality was a high priority. Michigan’s infant mortality rate is worse than 36 other states and Detroit’s rate is equal to that of a third-world nation, so we can understand why this issue should be a high priority.

So, why did the Governor cut funding to the Perinatology Research Branch (PRB) at Wayne State University/Detroit Medical Center? The PRB is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is the federal government’s only center for advanced research and treatment of at-risk mothers and their babies. It is at Hutzel Hospital on a 10-year contract, its second. WSU had to beat out Yale to keep it here. Yale wants it bad and next time they might get it, taking with it many high paying jobs. Isn’t keeping good jobs in Michigan also a high priority?

As part of a supplemental budget passed in March, a state funding request of $6.7 million for the PRB was reduced by the Governor, and the state House, by $3.35 million. Senator and medical doctor Roger Kahn, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wanted to give them the $6.7 million. State dollars to the PRB are matched 2 to 1 by the feds, so the $3.35 million results in a net loss to the PRB of $10 million.

In the proposed budget for next year, Dr. Kahn has included the $6.7 million once again, with the Governor and the House opting out. It will be hashed out in conference. Hopefully, the good sense of the doctor, and not the short-sightedness of the C.P.A., will prevail.

On March 26, while in Lansing on a separate but related issue, the elimination of prenatal alcohol exposure, I pitched my tent on the lawn of the State Capitol, directly across from the Governor’s office, in an attempt to convince him to restore funding to the PRB. I have been here 32 days without success. In response to an inquiry from Michigan Information & Research Service News, who did a story about me camping out, Snyder’s spokesperson, Sara Wurfel, stated that since the DMC is now a for-profit hospital, the Governor didn’t feel that funding it would be right. But the PRB is a “tenant” at the “Tenet”-owned DMC. Funding the PRB is not funding a for-profit hospital.

Why is research into perinatal care important? It’s not just about reducing infant mortality. The first day I set up my tent, research was announced linking autism spectrum disorders to issues that start in the womb. The elimination of prenatal alcohol exposure should also be high on the Governor’s agenda, but it’s not. The babies exposed to prenatal alcohol who die are the lucky ones. Those who survive will suffer greatly and the cost to care for them will far exceed the cost of funding the PRB. A just-released Michigan Department of Community Health report on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome states that prenatal alcohol exposure greatly contributes to infant mortality, yet the State Infant Mortality Reduction Plan barely mentions it.

If you agree, call Governor Snyder at 517-373-3400 and ask him to restore funding to the PRB.

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