Twenty years after the start of New Haven Healthy Start, a foundation dedicated to reducing infant mortality, the number of healthy outcomes for infants has improved but continues to lag behind the rest of the state.

NHHS, a federally funded health initiative, coordinates different aspects of maternal and infant health care in the city and helps mothers connect with services. The program, which partners with other nonprofits and health care initiatives in the city, was started in 1997 as one of 100 grants given around the country. Although infant mortality rates have fallen, disparities between races and neighborhoods remain a concern, according to NHHS Director Kenn Harris.

“New Haven has the same problems as many other parts of the nation which is babies dying before their first birthday, and a disparity in infant mortality between black babies and white babies,” he said.

A study by Connecticut Voices For Children reported an infant mortality rate of 10 babies out of every 1,000 in-state births in 1996. But in 2013, that rate was 6.7 infants out of every 1,000, according to DataHaven’s 2016 Community Health Index. The 2013 rate for Connecticut was 5.3 infants out of 1,000 live births.

Harris said that African-American infants in New Haven still have a mortality rate 2.5 times higher than that of Caucasian infants. Leading causes of infant mortality are low birth rate and preterm delivery, he added, so the program focuses on prenatal care, nutrition and birth care.

NHHS does so in conjunction with other community organizations such as the New Haven Diaper Bank and Yale New Haven Hospital, Harris said. The organization matches mothers with a health coordinator who can help them obtain housing and apply for health insurance among other things.

Although the program does not have financial criteria for participation, NHHS focuses on neighborhoods with the highest infant mortality rates, including places where as many as 11.2 out of every 1000 babies die. Program participants have a mortality rate of 4.5 out of 1000, Harries said.

The program serves about a thousand women a year, according to Harries.

Megan Smith SPH ’00, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, said mental health is also a problem for mothers in New Haven. Smith has worked with NHHS for nearly 18 years and is the founder of the New Haven Mental Health Outreach for Mothers Partnership, an organization that provides mental health services to Elm City mothers.

She said New Haven has made progress but that there is still a long way to go to ensure that women are connected with the resources they need.

Janet Alfano, Executive Director at New Haven’s Diaper Bank, said she feels as if the need for basic services is increasing in New Haven, in part due to state cuts to other nonprofits. She said economic problems in the state are felt by low-income families first, a concern Smith also raised in reference to hospital outreach programs.

Alfano also praised NHHS for its outreach work and said that the Diaper Bank tries to connect mothers with other organizations when they get requests for housing or medical care.

The Diaper Bank was founded in June 2004.