Indiana State University Newsroom

National program selects infant mortality task force as first Indiana partner

January 22, 2014

A new task force will spend the next year developing ways to bring down Indiana's infant mortality rate.

The National Leadership Academy for the Public's Health has selected the Terre Haute-based Rural Health Innovation Collaborative to lead the West Central Indiana Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force.

With 7.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, Indiana had the nation's sixth highest infant mortality rate in 2011. Gov. Mike Pence called the ranking "deplorable" in challenging participants in a statewide summit last fall to "think fresh" about ways to reduce deaths in children's first year of life.

Stephanie Laws, executive director of the collaborative, said the project fits seamlessly with the organization's mission and overall strategy to ensure a system-based solution to improve the health and wellbeing of its communities.

"It is our hope that we will positively impact infant mortality rates and identified social determinants of health," Laws said. "We are very excited to receive training and mentorship to build, sustain and spread public health leadership capacity for the purpose of mentoring communities throughout the Wabash Valley."

The task force will focus on an eight-county area around Terre Haute but members say their work will have statewide impact. Infant death rates in six of the counties (Clay, Greene, Owen, Parke, Putnam and Vermillion) exceed the state rate. Only Vigo and Sullivan counties have rates below the state average.

Arthur Logsdon, assistant commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, said the department "is dedicated to ensuring that a successful model is developed that can be replicated throughout the state."

The department has assigned one staff member to the task force, which also consists of Laws; Jack Turman, dean of Indiana State University's College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services; and Elizabeth Burrows, chief executive officer of Vermillion-Parke Community Health Center.

"I am pleased to share my leadership skills and subject matter expertise with the team to reduce infant mortality," said Turman, who has previously tackled the problem in other states. While at the University of Nebraska Medical Center from 2010 to 2013, he developed and implemented a community partnership to improve birth outcomes among African-Americans and he previously founded the Center for Premature Infant Health and Development at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.

The National Leadership Academy for the Public's Health works with and trains multi-sector teams through an applied, collaborative leadership development model. The academy is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program is implemented by the Center for Health Leadership and Practice, part of the Public Health Institute, and will provide training and support for one year, focusing on two tracks: development of leadership skills and team-based collaborative work aimed at effecting changes in policies and systems.

"This program will impart population health teams with the skills to lead across sectors and collaboratively solve complex population health problems in innovate ways," said Dr. Carmen Rita Nevarez, MD, vice president for external relations and director of the Center for Health Leadership and Practice. "These are the types of leaders who will ultimately be able to drive critical efforts, such as the adoption of evidence-based policies and practices at the community level, which can have a tangible impact on health outcomes."

The infant mortality task force is one of 29 teams from around the country chosen to participate in the third year of the national health leadership academy. It is the first Indiana team to be selected for inclusion in the three-year-old program.


Contact: Stephanie Laws, executive director, Rural Health Innovation Collaborative, 812-237-3630 or or Jack Turman, dean, College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services, Indiana State University, 812-237-3683 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, and communications chair, Rural Health Innovation Collaborative, 812-237-3743 or