EMS crews aim to prevent infant deaths
La PORTE — Emergency Medical Service crews will soon take up positions on the front line against a persistent foe in La Porte County — an alarming infant mortality rate.
About 12 field training officers and managers attended a workshop Friday in the County Government Complex to learn about Direct On-Scene Education, or DOSE, a partnership between the county Health and EMS departments. They, in turn, will train ambulance crews how to assess the situation in a home, educate residents about reducing the risk of infant death and find help if needed.
“We get into a lot of homes,” EMS Administrator Andrew McGuire said. “By participating in this program, we can make a big impact on our community and maybe save lives.”
Health Department registered nurse Danielle Glasgow agreed. She said a similar program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2014 contributed to a reduction in annual infant deaths from seven to one.
“You’re our eyes and ears out there,” Glasgow told the group.
At the top of the agenda for first responders is education about how to recognize and eliminate risks.
A few basics for people with babies: Put children to bed only in a proper crib, only on their backs and strictly alone with nothing more than a mattress and a tight-fitting sheet. Toys, pillows, blankets and bumper pads are out, Glasgow said, and allowing infants to sleep with adults, other children or in car seats is a proven invitation to tragedy.
Each ambulance crew will be trained to recognize dangerous situations when they respond to calls and will ask about sleeping arrangements in homes with infants, according to McGuire. Every ambulance will carry a DOSE kit that provides information and checklists.
Although a significant number of ambulance calls turn out to be non-emergencies, he said, crews on the run can make arrangements for a follow-up visit. Volunteers are available to talk with parents and other caregivers, such as siblings or grandparents, in homes where there may be concerns.
Glasgow said families needing help can be directed to additional resources, such as free portable cribs made available through a state grant or zip-up “sleep sacks” that can keep infants warm without bunching up the way blankets or additional clothing can.
Hospitals and doctors provide similar information, Glasgow said, but ambulance crews who meet people in their homes and talk about risks can only help reinforce the message. The program could be expanded to include police and fire departments in the county if they were interested and this program goes well.
La Porte County’s infant mortality rate is “absolutely horrendous,” Glasgow said, whether it’s measured against national statistics, state levels or other counties in the region.
At 11.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015, the county rate has been an ongoing cause for concern.
Community leaders three years ago formed a Neonatal Task Force to coordinate a campaign aimed at reducing the number of pregnant mothers or others in the household who smoke, for example. The group also has been reaching out to those who may have limited access to prenatal care.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana’s statewide rate in 2015 was 7.3 percent, compared with the nationwide rate of 5.9 percent.
The infant mortality rate is the number of babies who die in the first year of life per 1,000 live births.
The state does not recommend comparing rates involving fewer than 20 deaths because the numbers could be statistically “unstable.” In La Porte County, for example, the number of deaths would be about 15 against about 1,300 live births. The state does not list rates for many counties because they had fewer than five deaths.
However, among county rates the state does list in its annual report, La Porte County’s 11.2 was the seventh worst. Others in northern Indiana: Lake County, 7.3 percent; Porter County, 4.7 percent; St. Joseph County, 7.5 percent; Marshall County, 9.9 percent; and Elkhart County 8.8 percent.
The worst rate, 24.2, was recorded in Fayette County in east central Indiana.