Associate dean’s grant seeks to improve safe sleep education as part of infant mortality reduction efforts in Kalamazoo

"."As the head of the Safe Sleep task force for Cradle Kalamazoo, Dr. Cheryl Dickson has been leading efforts to improve education and raise awareness about safe sleep practices as a means of preventing infant deaths and lowering the infant mortality rate in Kalamazoo.

It is an effort that, in the end, Dr. Dickson said, is aimed at saving the lives of young babies and making a difference in the community.

Now, the work by Dickson, WMed’s associate dean for Health Equity and Community Affairs, and others, including Dr. Amy Damashek, associate professor for Psychology at Western Michigan University, has been bolstered by a one-year, $107,636 grant from the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.

The money, which was awarded to Dr. Dickson in March, will fund a training program for home visitation health providers to enhance their ability to deliver information to families about safe-sleep practices in a way that is culturally competent, more effective and more likely to be used and accepted.

The training for the providers will be made up of multiple sessions, including scenarios in the Simulation Center at WMed’s W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus where the providers will work with the center’s standardized patients.

“We’re really going to be looking at whether this impact is effective and causes a change in behavior and outcomes,” Dr. Dickson said. “We’re really excited about this grant.”

Dr. Dickson said the training for providers is meant to improve education about safe-sleep practices. Unsafe sleep environments are a leading cause of infant death and, Dickson said, completely preventable.

The training for home visitation health providers represents the next step in the Safe Sleep initiative, which is part of Cradle Kalamazoo. Previously, the Safe Sleep task force created a safe sleep toolkit and members have presented safe-sleep recommendations to health providers and organizations in the community.

Cradle Kalamazoo is a collaborative community initiative that is being led by YWCA Kalamazoo. WMed is one of several partners in the initiative, which seeks to reduce infant deaths in Kalamazoo and promote respect for families, women and children through evidence-based and holistic interventions.

Currently, the infant mortality rate in Kalamazoo County is one of the highest in the state and while the overall infant mortality rate has decreased over the last three decades, the disparity among babies of color and white babies has increased. In Kalamazoo, for example, babies of color are four times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies.

In addition to Dr. Dickson, Dr. Catherine Kothari, assistant professor for Biomedical Sciences and director of the Community Research Section within WMed’s Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, has played a key role in Cradle Kalamazoo. In November, Dr. Kothari was named the recipient of a one-year, $193,000 grant from the United Way that is serving as the “data backbone” of the infant mortality reduction initiative.

“This is a great example of a collective impact model,” Dr. Dickson said. “We’ve actually had success because of Kalamazoo and how we’ve come together.”

Along with the curriculum and training for the home visitation health providers, Dr. Dickson said there will be a follow-up component focusing on how the providers fare in delivering information about safe sleep practices to families and whether the information results in an improvement in the racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist with infant mortality due to unsafe sleep practices.

“I hope we are able to impact the home providers in a way that they feel comfortable having conversations with the clients they serve,” Dr. Dickson said. “We’re promoting this awareness and ultimately you’re going to prevent a death.”