HHS Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality Reconvenes

By Lauren Raskin Ramos
Director of Programs, AMCHP

On Aug. 2, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality (SACIM) reconvened in Bethesda, MD with new members and a renewed energy/dedication to advancing strategies to reduce infant mortality in the United States. Chaired by Michael Lu, MD, MS, MPH, Associate Professor Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, David Geffen School of Medicine, at the University of California at Los Angeles and the Department of Community Health Sciences at the School of Public Health, SACIM’s purpose is to advise the secretary on HHS programs that are directed at reducing infant mortality and improving the health status of pregnant women and infants. The committee also provides advice on how best to coordinate federal, state, local and private efforts that address the health and social problems impacting infant mortality.

Among the many prestigious members of the committee are AMCHP members Melinda Sanders, MSN, RN, Administrator, Title V Director, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and Ruth Ann Shepherd, MD, FAAP, Director, Division of Maternal and Child Health, Kentucky Department for Public Health.

In the following interview, Melinda Sanders shares thoughts on the anticipated accomplishments of SACIM and the role of Title V in this important work.

What are you most hopeful that SACIM will achieve?

I would like to see the SACIM develop a national agenda on infant mortality. Looking back through history, the first half of the 1900s was filled with national "child health campaigns" to improve the health of children. How refreshing it would be to see a renewed interest in the welfare of our nation’s children, with a special emphasis on infant mortality. Assuring each baby reaches their first birthday is a very complex issue. Despite the fact there are many evidence-based interventions proven to prevent infant mortality, the complexity of the issue leads to the need for further research, especially in the understanding and application of the life course perspective. We need to move beyond the knowledge of what "works" for certain populations to what "works" for each child and family.

As a Title V Director on the committee, what messages are you particularly focused on communicating on behalf of state Title V programs?

Data: Coming to state government from the private health care sector, I was amazed at the volume of state, community and often zip-code-level data available to our partners in health and all interested Missourians. I am blessed to work in a state that has a very robust data system accompanied by the best maternal and child health (MCH) epidemiology team! Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job of broadcasting this resource and need to spread the word that the Title V programs offer a wealth of current state-specific maternal and/or child health data (the Block Grant application alone has 73 measures).

Community: If nothing else, the work of the Missouri Title V programs have taught me the value and importance of inclusion of a child/family’s community. While the state staff may be charged with the responsibility of creating opportunities for communities to address the health needs of our children and families, it is the community that carries out the programs/services and knows the faces of those they serve. In my state, we contract with our local public health agencies to provide MCH services in general with a requirement they also focus on the prevention of adverse birth outcomes, tobacco cessation/prevention, obesity prevention or injury prevention. These focus areas are based on their community needs assessment and interventions are based on the Prevention Institute’s Spectrum of Prevention. It is the state-community collaboration that improves the health of Missouri’s mothers and babies.

Is there anything else you want to share with AMCHP members about SACIM?

I am honored to be working with my esteemed colleagues. I have never experienced a more excited, energetic and enthusiastic group of experts more eager to work hard on an issue, find solutions and, most importantly, to save babies! It truly is a humbling experience to be among "greatness" and I thank you for allowing me to represent AMCHP in this work.

Additional information about SACIM, including a membership list can be found at hrsa.gov/advisorycommittees/mchbadvisory/InfantMortality/index.html. AMCHP will continue to communicate information and progress related to SACIM to the membership.