Kusm-Wichita Center Focuses on Infant Mortality Programs, Research

By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

More than 225 Kansas infants die before their first birthday, according to a Wichita-based center that researches and implements programs to combat infant mortality. But the good news is that more efforts are being taken by local community groups to help educate parents about factors that can lower the risk for infant mortality.

The Center for Research on Infant Birth and Survival (CRIBS), based at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, was founded in 2017 to be a conduit for research and program implementation for both local and statewide efforts. It also oversees several maternal and infant health initiatives in Sedgwick County.

From 2012–2016, the infant mortality rate in Sedgwick County was 7.2 per 1,000 live births, which was higher than the state’s rate of 5.9 in 2015. The 2013–2017 Sedgwick County rate has dropped to 6.9 per 1,000 live births, which is nearing the state’s average that has held steady at 6.1. The U.S. national rate is 5.9, which itself isn’t great when compared to the rates of other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. ranks 33rd out of 36 OECD member countries, according to americashealthrankings.org.

Infant mortality rates are one of the basic indicators of the health of a community, state or country.

Cari Schmidt, PhD

CRIBS has developed a number of partnerships with area healthcare professionals, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other agencies to help fund and implement its maternal and infant health initiatives, according to CRIBS Director Cari Schmidt, PhD, an Associate Research Professor in KUSM-Wichita’s Department of Pediatrics who helped create the center.

The programs range from teaching parenting skills to connecting young parents with education and employment opportunities through case management to helping create a network of instructors in Kansas on safe infant sleeping habits.

Baby Talk, for example, is the local variation of the KDHE’s Kansas Perinatal Community Collaboratives program and is based on a March of Dimes curriculum. CRIBS works with area nurses who teach moms, dads and other caregivers about safe sleeping habits for infants to help reduce sleep-related deaths. Other topics include labor and delivery and breastfeeding benefits. The Baby Talk program, which consists of six, two-hour classes, recently expanded to 10 locations in the county. The program is free to any pregnant woman in Sedgwick County who is 32 weeks pregnant or less.

According to the KDHE website, similar programs are ongoing at more than a dozen other counties in the state, with 30 locations pending implementation.

CRIBS has recently become part of two other initiatives. Through another KDHE program called Lifting Young Families Toward Excellence (LYFTE) and funded with federal money, CRIBS helps coordinate one-on-one case management for pregnant and parenting teens through age 24. Physicians can refer patients to take part in the program.

“One of the cool things is that this will serve fathers as well as mothers,” Schmidt says. “The goals are to focus on education and employment as well as health to help young parents become self-sufficient.” Studies suggest that a parent’s socioeconomic status can affect access to health care and infant mortality.

LYFTE is also being offered in Geary and Barton counties and through the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas serving Crawford, Cherokee, Labette and Bourbon counties, according to Beth Greene, Program Manager with the KDHE.

CRIBS recently received a $25,000 Kansas Health Foundation grant to start a tobacco cessation social media campaign to educate expectant and current parents about the risks of smoking to maternal and infant health.

With the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS (KIDS) Network, CRIBS has also developed a certification program for safe sleep instructors who can provide standardized education to professionals and families using the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines. Instructors in 45 counties, including Harper County, have been trained, Schmidt says. Among Kansas counties, Harper has the highest infant mortality rate at 15.9 deaths.

CRIBS plans to hold its second infant mortality research symposium in 2020. The goals of the symposium are to identify top priorities and needs in the state and to serve as a catalyst for more programs and initiatives to combat infant mortality in Kansas.