Bill aims to raise awareness about SIDS

With one of the worst infant-mortality rates in the nation, Ohio is looking to change the trend by raising awareness.

The General Assembly will raise awareness of unexpected infant deaths by designating October as “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month” and to encourage use of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Investigation reporting form whenever a child 1 year or younger dies suddenly when in otherwise apparent good health.

The Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 198 unanimously on Oct. 16 by way of a 29-0 vote (four Senators did not cast a vote). The Ohio House will entertain the legislation, which has been assigned to the Health and Aging Committee chaired by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon. The committee will hear next week from the two senators who are sponsoring the Senate bill, Columbus Democrat Sen. Charleta Tavares and Springboro Republican Shannon Jones.

Jones, who chairs the Medicaid, Health & Human Services Committee, has never been directly impacted by SIDS or a sudden unexpected infant death but took up the cause because of Ohio’s “abysmal” infant mortality rate. She said she wanted to be a champion and voice for the babies that die before they get a chance to live as many of these deaths, Jones said, are preventable with education.

More than 1,000 babies die every year before their first birthday, which ranks the state as one of the worst, 47th, in infant mortality, Jones said.

“These sudden unexpected deaths account for 15 percent of deaths of babies from birth to 1 year of age,” she said. “We can do something about it. It definitely changes the families forever.”

By improving the national reporting, Tavares said with using improved data to monitor trends and identify those at-risk reducing sudden unexpected infant deaths is a realistic goal. She said SB 198 is the “initial step” in responding to the alarming statistics.

“As we work to improve our investigations, reporting and data collection of infant deaths, it is even more important for us to look at why our African-American babies are dying at 2-½ to three times the rate of our Caucasian babies,” said Tavares, who said Ohio ranks 49th in the country in sudden unexplained infant deaths in the African-American community. “We have an opportunity to look at consistent data to develop and expand strategies to eliminate these unacceptable disparities and prevent infant deaths among all of our babies, stated Senator Tavares.”

Jones held several Medicaid, Health & Human Services Committee meetings in six Ohio cities earlier this year to better understand local efforts to combat Ohio’s infant mortality rate and to look for ways to strengthen these efforts through statewide policy. The cities visited include Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Lima, Columbus and Cleveland.

While on this tour of Ohio, Jones had a chance to speak with parents impacted by SIDS and sudden unexpected infant deaths.

“I really have been struck and motivated in many respects by the profound courage that many over these families have to come and tell their stories simply they want to do something better and want to prevent this from happening to other families out there,” Jones said.

According to the 2012 Ohio Child Fatality Review Report, there are 7.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, and if all sleep-related deaths were prevented, the Ohio infant mortality rate for 2010 would have been reduced from 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

“We know more but we have to reeducate people about it,” Jones said. “As we toured the state we learned a lot from parents who have been impacted by it. These parents who have left a lasting impact on me because they understand that education is the most important thing and they learned, perhaps too late, sleep is.”

Jenny Bailer, a registered nurse and nursing director with the Butler County Health Department, commends the senator’s efforts to raise awareness in infant mortality. She said elevating sudden unexpected infant death awareness and infant mortality “is critically important.”

“SIDS is a significant problem in Butler County,” she said. “We’ve recently received some analysis of our infant deaths for the last few years and SIDS rose to the top as a cause of infant deaths.”

Bailer said data from that report, which is from Butler County Partnership to Reduce Infant Mortality, is not yet available for release as the department is still evaluating and analyzing it. Information from that data is expected to be available by the first of the year, she said.

Bailer agreed with Jones that education is key, and that means telling parents and those who watch babies that they “like to sleep on their back, alone and in a crib.”

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