Who cares about black babies in Louisville?

Who cares about black babies in Louisville? It’s not a trick question. It’s not really even a hard one. Yet, as I type, I am struggling to understand the answer.

To understand the complexities of how this came to be, we must first familiarize ourselves with 3 separate key incidences that occurred in the last year. These are: Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Mayor Fisher’s new healthy baby initiative, and the West end open lot debate.

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is described on its website as “a global program that was launched to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding. It was designed to improve health outcomes for both moms and infants. It is a long and in depth process that in the end, benefits both the hospital and the patients.

NWKCH-St. Matthews received the Baby Friendly designation in January of 2016, making it one of 417 hospitals in the U.S., 1 of 4 in Kentucky and the first of 2 in Louisville (University of Louisville hospital received baby friendly designation in January of 2017).

Coincidentally, January was also the STAR BioEnergy pulled their proposal for a methane gas plant set to be placed in the California neighborhood, namely 17th and Maple. This came after a lengthy battle against residents who were not in support of the placement of the plant in their neighborhood. It’s important to note that these residents got very good at protesting the idea of filling one or more vacant lots in the West End with an entity such as this one. STAR BioEnergy, under the name Nature’s Methane, tried this first in 2014 at 17th and maple and proposed another one at 30th and Muhammad Ali in early 2015.

Why is this important to the story? 2 reasons:

Reason number one: Health outcomes for people living in proximity to oil, chemical, or power plants are far worse than those who are not. We have no studies to base evidence of what long term exposure to living near this plant will do to African American Women of childbearing age, African American women currently pregnant, or their fetuses.

Reason number two: Mayor Fischer reportedly cares about the health of women and infants, or at least his press team is making a really good case to that effect; effectively complicating this issue further as you read below.

Mayor Fischer was in major support of the methane plant. In fact, upwards of $5 million dollars’ worth of support presented to buy the approval of outraged west Louisville natives who were against the addition of yet another chemical or gas plant in the area.

In a plot twist, once the plant aborted the agreement it was Mayor Fischer accepted credit for the dissolution and turned his attention to his new pet project: The Healthy Baby Louisville initiative.

The Healthy Babies Louisville is a coalition led by Mayor Greg Fischer to improve infant health in Louisville. This coalition, which includes Norton Healthcare, was announced in January 2016 with the tagline “Good health for each person begins even before birth”.

I can’t be the only one who finds it ironic that he went from supporting poisoning black babies to saving black babies in utero, but I digress none the less.

This initiative states its goals are to lower infant mortality rates, reduce the gap in infant mortality between black and white babies, increase access to prenatal health care; reduce smoking among pregnant women and decrease teen pregnancies.

At the time this statement happened, the best place to give birth in Louisville was an hour and 18 minute bus ride from the most African American populated neighborhood in Louisville. Imagine that ride, 9 months pregnant, once a week until you give birth. And, that’s only if you can make that hike, pending your work situation and your ability to make the trek from the Tarc stop at the corner of Breckenridge and Dutchmans.

So we have a premier birthing hospital that boasts a need to eliminate adverse birth outcomes, but exists miles away from the urban neighborhoods with these outcomes; and we have an open and available empty lot in a primarily African American neighborhood. Finally, we have a mayor who cares about the health of African American babies and mothers and money to throw at problems. Whose move is it?

January of this year, Norton paid $8 million to buy the Village 8 property on Dutchman’s lane, directly across the street from the already existing Norton Women and Children’s Hospital. June of 2016, they spent $12.5 million on the property next to them at Breckenridge and Dutchman’s Ln. In total, just 2 million shy of the 22 million dollar project STAR BioEnergy proposed.

And yet, we still have a multitude of empty lots in the west end just waiting to be used for the betterment of the community.

So again I ask… who cares about black babies in Louisville?