Richland Public Health announces new infant safe sleep initiative

December 14, 2018

Richland Public Health Commissioner Martin Tremmel announced at a press conference on Wednesday the launch of a new health initiative aimed at providing a safe sleep environment for Richland County's most vulnerable residents.

December 12, 2018

MANSFIELD -- The issue of infant mortality remains a top priority for Richland Public Health as the organization announced a new safe sleep initiative on Wednesday. 

Thanks to a $25,000 financial gift from Richland County Youth and Family Council, Richland Public Health and their partnering agencies will provide a free pack-n-play crib to every Medicaid-eligible new mother or mother-to-be in Richland County.

According to Health Commissioner Martin Tremmel, of the approximately 1,000 babies born each year in Richland County, about half of those babies are born Medicaid-eligible. With the $25,000 from the Richland County Youth and Family Council, an estimated 300 pack-n-play cribs will be purchased. 

"We have around 500 babies eligible for Medicaid, and we're going to be able to provide pack-n-plays for 300 of those babies," Tremmel said. 

The free pack-n-plays will be distributed as a method of fighting unsafe sleep environments, one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Richland County. Infant mortality is defined as the death of a live-born baby before his or her first birthday. 

The infant mortality rate is defined as the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births, and is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a county. In 2017, there were 982 babies that died before their first birthday in Ohio, and 9 babies that died in Richland County the same year. That equals an infant mortality rate of 7.2 for Ohio, and 6.7 for Richland County. 

"Ohio still has an infant mortality rate that is among the highest in the nation, and the United States has an infant mortality rate higher than any country in the developed world," Tremmel said. "As a country, as a state, and as a community we need to do a better job."

Martin Tremmel, Health Commissioner, Richland Public Health and Teresa Alt, Director, Richland County Youth and Family Council.

The Ohio Department of Health concluded that prematurity remains the leading cause of infant death in Ohio, and that mortality rates from prematurity, birth defects and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) have been trending downwards. Tremmel said with this new initiative, Richland Public Health is focusing on preventable risk factors and opportunities for intervention.

In 2017, there were two babies that died due to an unsafe sleep environment. So far in 2018 there have been three unsafe sleep deaths. The recommended method for safe sleep for babies is alone, on their back and in a crib. 

"We feel that we have encouraged messaging. We feel we collaborate. We feel that we have trained professionals in all of our colleagues in all of the agencies, but even with that we're just missing opportunities," Tremmel said. "And because we're missing opportunities, unfortunately babies pass away and die. And that's just not acceptable."

Pack-n-play cribs will be available through Richland Public Health's partner agencies, including Catholic Charities, the Child Development Center at North Central State College, the Domestic Violence Shelter, the office of Dr. Guimares, OB/GYN, Richland Pregnancy Services, Third Street OB/GYN, WIC offices, and Woman's Care. 

To qualify for a free pack-n-play crib, a woman must be pregnant or have a child under one year of age and under 30 pounds, must be a Richland County resident, and must have a Medicaid card and sign a waiver form. Pack-n-play cribs will be limited to one per family, except in the instance of a second qualifying child (twins, for example). 

Teresa Alt, director of the Richland County Youth and Family Council, said addressing infant mortality was identified as a need the council wanted to address through its pooled fund. The initiative also pairs well with the "Help Me Grow" home visiting and early intervention program, so every child born in Richland County has access to a nurse home visit within the first couple months of life if the family is willing and interested. 

"Having a newborn baby is very stressful, so we hope to help parents and family members to have a little more confidence, to understand that a lot of these things are normal and this too will pass, and to use some of the tools we can provide to them," Alt said. 

"It's another instance where we try to work collaboratively to identify needs and to address those, and try to get to families with resources before there are issues that need to be addressed that could affect children later in life." 

Tremmel said this new initiative would make a difference one baby at a time. 

"We couldn't be more happy and proud of this initiative. We have one more tool today in the toolbox," Tremmel said. "Nine deaths is too many. One is too many. We appreciate all of you helping us get to a better place." 




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