Turning tragedy into action, Stefania Kaplanes, AHS trauma prevention manager, is motivated by the “saddest two hours of (each) month.”
“I sit on the Alameda County Child Death Review Committee. It is the saddest two hours of the month,” Kaplanes said. “Hearing the cases motivates me to bring the best practices I learn back to my community to reduce the risk of injury and deaths among infants and children.”
Kaplanes, who received the Heart of Safe Kids Award from Safe Kids Alameda County, is helping AHS partner with community organizations to reduce infant mortality and promote safe sleep environments for children in Alameda County.
The Safe Sleep program is a multi-agency partnership, focused on educating new parents about the basics to reduce bedtime risks to infants.
Local partnerships are also focused on safely transporting children. A new state law prompted Bay Area partners to renew efforts within the Car Seat Safety Program.
The programs are a continuation of AHS’s commitment to families with a focus on the most vulnerable; the children who are dependent upon their parents and guardians to make safe choices.
“The sad fact is that most fatalities are preventable through parent education and awareness. Many of the deaths we observe are infant rollovers that result in suffocation in their bed. We’re also seeing some infant mortalities from slings and well-known brand name carriers. Not many deaths are a result of motor vehicle accidents and we believe this is due to the great work we’ve led to educate parents about child passenger safety. We must continue to provide education on best practices for child injury prevention as advocates for our patients, particularly the most vulnerable in our community.”
The sleep program targets conditions that led to 33 cases of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death in the past five years. Unsafe sleeping environments – such as bed-sharing, front or side sleeping and loose bedding or soft objects in the crib – were identified in 72 percent of those cases.
The partnership brings together AHS, Alameda County Children and Family Services, the Alameda County Public Health Department, the Childhood Injury Prevention Network – Bay Area and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. The campaign is currently featured on county buses and shelters as well as on BART platforms.
AHS’s investment in community engagement for health improvement includes providing parents with a brochure with safe sleep best practices upon discharge. AHS also offers monthly car seat and infant safety classes at Highland as part of the provider’s pre-natal training program for expectant parents.
Classes feature the latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, including:
· Putting an infant up to one year of age on its back to sleep;
· Placing infants on a firm sleep surface (i.e., mattress in a safety-approved crib) covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft objects;
· Room-sharing without bed-sharing;
· Avoiding overheating and head-covering in infants; and
· Offering a pacifier at naptime and bedtime.
“I focus my classes on providing education and information; ultimately, it’s the family’s decision and actions for raising their children,” Kaplanes said. “Most families are excited and thankful for the education; sometimes they just aren’t aware of best practices or opportunities to learn through classes like those provided by AHS and others in the community.
“A lot of families can’t afford cribs or may have multiple people sleeping in a bed. I let my patients know if they can’t afford a crib, they can create a safe sleep environment by placing a dresser drawer on the floor with a fitted sheet.”
Child safety is also the focus of the car-seat safety program. Monthly classes draw attention to a state law that took effect Jan. 1 requiring children under age two to be secured in a rear-facing car seat for transport. The law seeks to mitigate trauma injuries and deaths of infants in car crashes. New parents participating in the class learn how to safely use and install car seats with real-time and video demonstrations.
A grant from the American Automobile Association (AAA) provides 20-30 free car seats for AHS patients in need; seats are distributed largely based on provider referrals. Additional seats are available for $18 if the baby is delivered at AHS. Kaplanes, one of a few nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians at AHS, is available to assist in the installation of safety seats. Thanks to our partnership with EMS, additional nurses will soon be certified to assist the families we serve in the installation of child passenger safety seats.
AHS continues to actively engage patients and our communities in health and wellness education to reduce injuries and prevent deaths that often happen in greater proportion to vulnerable populations.