A sleepless issue: Sacramento County gains ground on black infant deaths

Report finds significant drop in sleep-related fatalities

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the November 23, 2017, issue.

A coalition that’s been working to reduce the alarming number of black child deaths in Sacramento County recently saw its first signs of progress.

On November 14, the county’s Child Death Review Team presented its annual findings to the Board of Supervisors. In past years, these reports have been grim. Historically, the county’s black youths die at twice the rate of any other group. Outrage over that trend compelled county and city leaders to form the Black Child Legacy Campaign.

Since the majority of the deaths are concentrated in seven areas, the campaign has spent the last year building community incubators in those neighborhoods, which offer easier access to an array of health, nutrition, legal and educational services. In just 12 months, the campaign has formed fully-functioning incubators in Valley Hi, Meadowview, Arden-Arcade, Del Paso Heights, Oak Park, North Highlands and neighborhoods along Fruitridge Road and Stockton Boulevard.

Those efforts may be paying off. According to Dr. Michael Evens, a pediatrician and member of the Child Death Review Team, Sacramento County experienced a 29 percent decrease in the sleep-related deaths of black infants.

Chet Hewitt, CEO of Sierra Health Foundation and chair of the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American Child Deaths, does not think the decrease is a coincidence. Hewitt told SN&R that the campaign, First Five Sacramento and local hospitals have been making inroads in the community. That includes hospitals giving free safe-sleep assessments for all children in the county, and issuing cribs to families that can’t afford them.

“We’ve seen the first reduction of sleep-related deaths in African American children in 20 years,” Hewitt stressed. “We’re helping families learn to protect their children.”

Not every element of the Child Death Review Team’s report was uplifting. Overall, black infants and kids still had twice the mortality rate over the county’s average, at 81.7 percent per 100,000 residents. Hewitt acknowledged there is still work to do, particularly on getting women prenatal care and preventing child homicides. Still, he said, the new report was cause for celebration.

“It’s extraordinarily encouraging,” he noted. “What we’re seeing is some hope in these communities.” (Scott Thomas Anderson)