Kansas group pushes for more data on infant mortality

HUTCHINSON — Kansas ranks 29th among other states in the nation for infant mortality and is one of 13 states that doesn't collect information about the underlying causes.

Both are statistics the group Kansas Action for Children — a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the lives of children and their families — would like to see changed.

"Kansas ranks higher than neighboring states and the nation," said Stephanie Mullholland, communications director for Kansas Action for Children.

Its first push is to enact legislation that would allow health workers to interview the mother of a deceased infant in order to better understand the causes behind infant mortality.

The proposal was amended into House Bill 2454 this week and will be addressed in a conference committee when the Legislature reconvenes April 26, said Ryan Wright, Kansas Action for Children's director of development.

Mullholland said some of the questions health workers would ask would include: Did the mother have access to prenatal care? If she didn't, was it because she didn't have health insurance? Did she have transportation to see a doctor?

She said 37 other states are already collecting this kind of data.

Officials could identify trends from the additional data, which, in turn, could offer insight to what additional steps local agencies can take to prevent infant deaths, she said.

There were 303 deaths of children under 12 months old in 2008 in Kansas, and 1,510 infant deaths between 2004 and 2008, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The state's infant mortality rate of 7.4 is based on that five-year period, meaning there were 7.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The national infant death rate average is 6.7, Mullholland said, and Iowa, for example, has an infant mortality rate of 5.1.

Undetermined deaths among children are most likely to occur among infants, according to statistics from the Kansas State Child Death Review Board, which examines the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Kansas children under 18 years old.

Fourteen of the 18 undetermined deaths in 2007 were of children 1 year old and younger, according to the most recent statistics available from the state child death review board. Some cases revealed "incomplete investigations or law enforcement agencies not being informed of the death," the board reported.

Kansas Action for Children is pursuing the legislation in the hope that health workers would be allowed to gather critical data after any infant death, as a way to fill in the information gaps left behind in traditional investigations.

"In some instances, autopsies were not performed or were incomplete, or toxicology reports on the victim were not requested," the child death review board reported.

"We want to address what's going on at the local level and what the specific causes (of infant deaths) might be," Mullholland said.

Additionally, if legislation is passed and the state could gather the additional information on infant mortality, Kansas would become eligible for federal funding through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mullholland said. The federal funding could cover the costs of the interviews and data collection, she said.