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Dec. 4, 2012 -- The Westchester County Child Fatality Review Team was established six years ago to review every suspicious death of a child in Westchester County. To date, it has investigated the deaths of 63 children of which the vast majority - 26 deaths - occurred while the infants were in unsafe sleeping environments – by far the largest subset of the deaths reviewed.

All twenty six of the infants were just weeks to a few months old. Although the cause and circumstances of their deaths were specific to each case, a number of troubling similarities became evident:

  • the use of inappropriate bedding,
  • the use of pillows or stuffed animals in the sleeping area,
  • sleeping in an adult bed with one or more other individuals,
  • the use of drugs or alcohol by adults before bed time.

In an effort to combat this continuing trend, the District Attorneys Office, a founding member of the CFRT, along with 8 Hospitals throughout Westchester County, has developed a safe sleeping campaign to inform and educate both parents and caregivers.

The primary element in the campaign is: "The ABC's of Safe Sleeping", a six minute video produced with support from Lawrence Hospital Center and narrated by Dr. Jennifer Canter, the Director of Child Protection for the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center and the CFRT's forensic pediatrician. Dr. Canter guides new parents or caregivers through safe sleeping practices for their baby. The practices are based on guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In the video, Dr. Canter explains why a baby:

  • sleeps safest Alone,
  • on its Back,
  • in a Crib,

The campaign will begin with video's distribution to the 8 participating Westchester hospitals, in both English and Spanish:

Initial funding for the video was provided by Lawrence Hospital Center.

The participating hospitals are:

  • Hudson Valley Hospital Center,
  • Lawrence Hospital Center,
  • Westchester Medical Center; Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center,
  • Northern Westchester Hospital,
  • Phelps Memorial Hospital,
  • St. John's Riverside Medical Center,
  • Sound Shore Medial Center of Westchester,
  • White Plains Hospital Center.

In addition, the campaign will include a door hanger and a poster with the safe sleeping message.

The hospitals will use a number of channels for communicating the safe sleeping message such as:

  • showing "The ABC's of Safe Sleeping" to new parents in their maternity departments, and consider including it in their discharge materials;
  • showing the video in other appropriate settings, such as classes for new parents;
  • posting the video on their websites;
  • distributing the "The ABC's of Safe Sleeping" door hanger to new parents;
  • displaying the "The ABC's of Safe Sleeping" poster in appropriate locations within the hospital.

"In the interest of promoting safe sleeping practices, we created these important resources for parents and caregivers that these participating Westchester hospitals have agreed to show to new parents following the birth of a baby," explained Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore. "We know that these deaths were preventable and that is why we are committed to communicating this potentially life-saving information before the new parent or parents leave the hospital. We also urge all parents to share this information or watch the video with any caregiver so there is no misunderstanding of what is best for the newborn."

"At Lawrence Hospital Center we deliver nearly two thousand babies each year," said Edward M. Dinan, President and CEO of Lawrence Hospital Center. "We work with mothers from pre-pregnancy through delivery to do all we possibly can to bring healthy babies into the world. It only makes sense that we take the added step and join in with our District Attorney Janet DiFiore to support the creation and promotion of "The ABC's of Safe Sleeping" video to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of unsafe sleeping habits. This is about saving babies' lives, and we'll be taking this message directly to every one of our maternity patients."

"We thank the District Attorney for including us in this very important project to educate parents on safe sleeping practices,'' said Hudson Valley Hospital President John Federspiel. "The information imparted to the community will go a long way towards keeping our children safe.''

"Northern Westchester Hospital supports the District Attorney's safe sleeping initiative and the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleeping guidelines. For us at NWH, that means 'modeling' the safe sleep environment in the way we care for the over 1,700 newborns we welcome into the world each year. We encourage and support mothers who have chosen to breastfeed by offering lactation consultants during and after their stay, and we encourage immunization which has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. And of course, we disseminate appropriate literature to educate families, which will now include the DA's excellent video The ABC's of Safe Sleeping," Joel Seligman, President and CEO.

Dr. Jennifer Canter, the Director of Child Protection at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center and the Medical Director of the Westchester County Child Fatality Review Team said, "Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center is in the process of conducting research as to the potential impact of this safe sleep educational program. We are hopeful that our results will demonstrate the program's effectiveness in increasing awareness of safe sleep risk factors analogous to our successful statewide abusive head trauma prevention initiative, which resulted in a 75% reduction of abusive head trauma in our region."

President and CEO of Phelps Memorial Hospital, Keith Safian, supports the initiative designed to prevent infant deaths associated with unsafe sleep environments, stating, "The educational materials provided through this program will enhance our efforts to address this important issue with all of our new parents, and we look forward to collaborating with other hospitals and agencies to increase awareness for greater infant safety. We commend District Attorney Janet DiFiore for her leadership with this noteworthy initiative."

"St. John's Riverside Hospital is the only maternity Services provider in the City of Yonkers and is proud to be part of this Safe Sleeping Initiative," said Ronald J. Corti, President and CEO of St. John's. "We believe in the power of education and in this case, educating our new parents and other caregivers on the importance of safe sleeping practices for infants."

President and CEO of Sound Shore Medical Center John Spicer said, "As a New York State Department of Health designated Prenatal Hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Sound Shore has always had a keen interest in babies and safeguarding their health and well-being. Just last year, we delivered 1,077 reasons to encourage parents to adopt Westchester County's Safe Sleeping practices."

Jon Schandler CEO and President of White Plains Hospital said, "We feel we have a responsibility to ensure that the over 2,000 babies born at White Plains Hospital each year have the very best start in life. We are pleased to be able to partner with Westchester County on this important public health initiative to educate parents, grandparents and other caregivers on these essential guidelines to ensure newborns stay healthy and safe once they leave the hospital."

Additionally, the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital will be conducting a research project entitled: the "Newborn Sleep Practices". The research project's goal is to evaluate the potential impact of the new Safe Sleep Video on newborn parents' knowledge about safe sleeping. This project, led by Dr. Jennifer Canter and Child Abuse Pediatrics fellow Dr. Vinod Rao, has undergone review and approval through the New York Medical College's Institutional Review Board prior to its initiation.

Extensive surveys regarding sleep practice knowledge and planning will be statistically analyzed before and after the video's implementation to determine if the video had a positive impact as a preventative measure.


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