Sherrod Brown seeks standard rules for investigating baby deaths

By William K. Alcorn


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is optimistic legislation to standardize information- gathering on sudden unexpected infant deaths will become law by year’s end.

Speaking at Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley on Wednesday, Brown, D-Ohio, said he is not aware of any opposition to the bipartisan Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act that he introduced with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican.

In addition, Brown said more than 20 local, state, and national organizations support the bill.

He said it’s “unacceptable” that Ohio’s black infant-mortality rate is the worst in the nation and that the state ranks 47th or 48th for all deaths of infants in their first year of life.

Brown said standardizing data gathering nationwide would enable doctors and researchers to better understand the causes of stillbirths and sudden unexpected infant deaths and thus improve prevention efforts.

“No parent should have to grieve the loss of a child without access to answers and help,” Brown said.

Area health officials, seeking solutions to the dismal infant-mortality rate in the Mahoning Valley, say national standards for data gathering would be an important step toward finding causes and solutions here and in the nation.

More than a year ago, the Youngstown City Health Department, headed by Erin Bishop, and the Mahoning County Health Department, joined to create a community initiative to reduce infant mortality and eliminate birth-outcome inequities between blacks and whites, said Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner.

Working with the Equity Institute in the Ohio Department of Health, Sweeney said they searched for data to show why the county and state have been experiencing such high infant-mortality rates.

“What we found is that consistent, meaningful data is difficult to find,” said Sweeney, partially because of the various types of information collected and the way it is collected.

Without directives that require consistent collection of information — that are called for in Brown’s bill — critical opportunities are lost that could better form strategies to prevent infant mortality, Sweeney said.

Each week in Ohio three infants in their first year of life die, said Dr. Elena Rossi of Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley.

The cause can be explained in two of those deaths, but the cause of the third death often remains a mystery. Collection of information as proposed by Brown could help explain some of those deaths, Dr. Rossi said.

Brown said his legislation would authorize the standardization of protocols used by medical examiners in stillbirths and unexpected infant and childhood deaths.

It also would help establish and promote a standard method of data collection for scene investigations and autopsies so that every entity involved in investigating the deaths of infants and young children is on the same page.

“This would enable doctors and researchers to better track and prevent these tragic losses,” Brown said.

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