TOLEDO, OH — With Ohio ranking worst in the nation for African American infant mortality and 48th in the nation for overall births, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) visited St. Vincent Mercy Children’s Hospital Outpatient Building today to announce landmark legislation to help doctors and researchers better understand the causes of stillbirths, Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID), and Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Childhood (SUDC). Earlier this year, the Toledo Blade reported that the infant mortality rate among African-American babies born in Lucas County is higher than in many third-world countries.
To announce the introduction of the Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act, Brown was joined by Betsy Miller, a northwest Ohio parent who unexpectedly lost a child just a few hours after being born. Dr. R. W. Mills, Chief Medical Officer for St. Vincent Mercy Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Barbara Gunning, Director of Health Services for the Lucas County Health Department also attended the event to outline efforts to address this issue in northwest Ohio.
Ohio has the highest infant mortality rate for African American babies in the continental United States and ranks third from the bottom for all births. Each year, there are more than 25,000 stillbirths in the United States. Many of these deaths are the result of birth defects, umbilical cord problems, chronic conditions of the mother, or infections. There is no known cause for as many as half of all stillbirths, leaving thousands of parents without any explanation for these deaths. In addition, there are more than 4,600 sudden unexpected infant deaths each year and another 200 children between the ages of one and four who die without any clear cause of death. Many of these tragedies could be prevented with more data and research on cause of death.
Brown’s landmark legislation aims to fill the gaps in federal reporting of infant and childhood deaths as a way to improve prevention efforts. The legislation would give the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) authority to standardize the protocols used by medical examiners in stillbirths and unexpected infant and childhood deaths. Additionally, the legislation would build on existing activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to 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.
This bipartisan legislation that was introduced with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), is supported by more than 20 local, state, and national organizations, including the Children’s Hospital Association, the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. In addition, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Public Health Association have endorsed this legislation.