Louisville leaders and guests gather at Metro Hall for the announcement of a grant for the Healthy Start program. | Photo by Darla Carter

The city announced a $4.6 million grant Tuesday for a home visitation program that strives to ensure that west Louisville babies reach important milestones, including living past their first birthday.

The Healthy Start program of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness will use the money to continue nurturing pregnant moms and newborn babies in ZIP codes where the infant mortality rate is more than double the overall rate in Louisville, Mayor Greg Fischer said Tuesday.

“The ZIP code where a baby is born should not determine how long he or she will live a nice healthy life, and that’s why Healthy Start is so, so important,” Fischer said during a news conference at Metro Hall.

Fischer also noted that the five-year grant “could not be coming along at a better time,” with the city facing a budgetary crisis. “I’m especially grateful for grants like this.”

U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth said receiving the grant is a testament to the work the staff has put into Louisville’s program, one of 100 such initiatives in the country to receive this funding.

Fischer made similar comments, noting that the program has had a “huge impact” on the city’s kids.

Healthy Start participant Toni Bland-Lemons, left, shares the podium with Regina Moore, the community outreach coordinator.

“Among participants in the Healthy Start program from 2003 to 2015, the average infant mortality rate was 1.13 per 100,000,” Fischer said. “That’s less than 25 percent of the city’s overall average and less than one-tenth of the average in the targeted neighborhoods.”

Since its inception in 1998, the program has served more than 10,000 children and their families, including more than 800 last year.

As part of the program, women receive home visits before and after giving birth to make sure they have access to prenatal care and keep all of their appointments. The program also promotes breastfeeding and helps ensure newborns reach developmental milestones.

These “are essential steps for children in terms of both physical development and brain development, so they can stay on pace to enter kindergarten ready to learn,” Fischer said. “… Our least-resourced kids are three years behind our most-advantaged kids, so the work that Healthy Start does makes sure that those gaps do not exist.”

Family support includes the WIC nutritional program, parenting classes, childhood immunizations, physical and mental health screenings, and training for fathers.

Toni Bland-Lemons, a participant from the Shawnee neighborhood, said the program helped her to receive art therapy for postpartum depression after the traumatic birth of her first child. It also helped her husband to get involved through activities, such as a baby shower, and to impart useful knowledge.

“It makes a difference,” she said. “You do not know what you do not know until you get into it. You have no idea what kind of impact it can make on your life until you do it.”