The city of Columbus, Ohio, is launching a transportation service that aims to address its infant mortality rate, especially among disadvantaged women and women of color. Over the course of five months, 500 low-income women in early pregnancy will be connected to on-demand rides that will transport them to Medicaid facilities, with the aim of cutting infant mortality in Columbus.

The project comes as a result of a $50 million 2016 grant competition initiated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which Columbus’s proposal won over 77 other cities, including Denver and San Francisco. According to city officials, Columbus aims to improve the lives of vulnerable mothers through mobility and reduce infant mortality in Columbus by 40% by 2020.

Columbus’s bus network is so poor that a 20-minute bus ride can easily turn into a 2-hour venture.   

The pilot, funded by Smart City Challenge, enables Medicaid subscribers to book free rides via a ridehailing app – which also updates service providers with the location of patients. This particular service is not new. Medicaid patients can currently schedule rides on paratransit shuttles, but the service is unreliable.    

Ohio ranks 39th in the U.S. for infant mortality, with about 150 infant deaths per year. Nationally, the 2016 mortality rate was 5.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

Research shows that disadvantaged mothers are especially susceptible to preterm births. Maternal stress, caused by lack of basic services, like jobs, housing, and transportation, is considered a high-level factor.

Between 2005 and 2015, the death rate among black infants decreased from 14.3 to 11.7 per 1,000 births – compared to the death rate of white infants, which decreased from from 5.7 to 4.8 per 1,000 births within the same period. Organizations like Restoring Our Own Through Transformation, or R.O.O.T.T., which, according to their website, is “a black women-led reproductive justice organization dedicated to collectively restoring our well-being through self-determination, collaboration, and resources to meet the needs of women and families within communities,” has been working to raise awareness about reproductive justice in Colombus.

Executive Director of R.O.O.T.T., Jessica Roach, highlighted the need for radical action to reduce racial disparity among access to medical care in an interview with City Lab. “You can’t have an impact by just addressing prenatal care,” she argues. “You gave to look at the overall holistic picture of women’s lives.”      

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