Minnesota infant mortality rate disparities creates need for new care facilities

While the state of Minnesota has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the country, the racial disparities are glaring. 

When compared to white babies, Black and indigenous infants in the state face a greater chance of not reaching their first birthday, and researchers at the University of Minnesota are looking into the inequities and how to solve them.

Lola Kostrzewski, 30, of Rochester is a mother of five with a sixth child on the way. For her, the joys of motherhood have also been met by hardship.  

"It was very much like you’re going into surgery, you’ve lost this pregnancy. No time to process," Kostrzewski told FOX 9.

In 2011, Kostrzewski had her first miscarriage just weeks into her pregnancy. 

"And the nurse who was taking care of me, came to me and said why are you crying? And I was so taken back, like why am I not allowed to cry?," Kostrzewski said. 

Her story is a shared experience. 

"Our research has shown that when physicians don’t have, don’t relate to the patients or the people that they’re caring for that harm can happen," Dr. Rachel Hardeman said. 

Hardeman is the founding director of the Center For Anti-Racism Research for Health Equity at the University of Minnesota. She says for every 1,000 live births in Minnesota, at least eight babies won't make it to their first birthday. And Black mothers face a maternal mortality rate more than three times that of white women. 

"What we know is that not everyone is getting high quality, equitable care in our current health care system as it’s designed. It has not designed in a way that ensures that everyone is safe," Dr. Hardeman said.

Hardeman is teaming up with Roots Community Birth Center in north Minneapolis to find solutions. 

"In terms of infant mortality here in the community, everybody knows someone whose lost a baby. Everyone. There’s not a single person who doesn’t have a story of a friend, or relative or themselves who’ve lost a baby at some point," Rebecca Polston said. 

Polston opened the only Black-owned birthing facility in the state six years ago. 

"There are a few things that I think are a big part of the solution," Polston said. "One is having providers who look like us, who understand us and know what our care is like so that we don’t have to climb that hill to get basic care."

Dr. Hardeman says there's a lot of work to do to close the inequity gaps. 

For mothers like Kostrzewski, facilities like Roots is part of the path forward. 

"I was met with love, it was the only way to describe it. I was met with love," Kostrzewski said.

Dr. Hardeman is working to develop education and training based on structural racism and health inequities. 

The anti-racism research for health equity center launched last year.