Safe sleep pilot program aims to educate caregivers, reduce infant mortality in 46805 and 46806 zip codes

FORT WAYNE, IND. – Jan. 7, 2021 – Parkview Health’s Advanced Medical Simulation Lab, in partnership with Healthier Moms and Babies and New Tech Academy at Wayne High School, is launching a pilot program designed to increase adherence to safe sleep practices among infant caregivers in Allen County, with the goal of decreasing sleep-related infant deaths in the 46805 and 46806 zip codes. The Simulation to Promote Safe Sleep program is being funded by a grant from the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation and is set to begin in February 2021. 

The Simulation to Promote Safe Sleep program utilizes experiential learning to emphasize the importance of safe sleep practices among current or expectant infant caregivers. Community health workers from Parkview Health and educators from Healthier Moms and Babies will use a 3-D model to provide a visual representation of what can happen when an infant spits up while on their belly versus spitting up while on their back. This in-home simulation clarifies a common misconception that an infant is safer sleeping on their belly. 

“This is a one-of-a-kind educational tool,” said Paige Wilkins, executive director, Healthier Moms and Babies. “There are currently only handouts of the trachea to show families it’s not possible for a baby to choke on their spit up while sleeping. Fort Wayne will be the only community in the nation to have such a unique tool to help families visualize this. We will be helping to establish a best practice.” 

The program will also utilize a mobile application that pairs with an infant doll to demonstrate the potential physiological response to different sleep positions. The educator may take the infant doll and place it in varying locations and sleep positions within the caregiver’s home, and the corresponding sleep position can be selected on the mobile app. This will allow the simulated infant heart rate and oxygen saturation to be displayed for each sleep position and serve as a visual and auditory representation of what is happening to the infant in different sleep positions. The mobile app is being designed by Key Club students at New Tech Academy at Wayne High School.

“Our club of about 20 students has focused on this single project of producing both Android and iOS apps for the Simulation to Promote Safe Sleep program,” said Eric Toy, one of the teacher-sponsors for New Tech Academy’s Key Club. “While we offer computer science and medical intervention courses at our school, this club provides the unique opportunity to combine these skills in a meaningful way to help our community. Our students are motivated not only by this exciting partnership with Parkview’s Sim Lab, but they also recognize the important role they have in helping educate infant caregivers on the life-saving lessons of safe sleep.” 

“Parkview’s community health workers have found that caregivers can be instructed on safe sleep practices, but if they don’t fully understand why it is important, it is easier to forget,” said Erin Norton, director of community outreach, Parkview Women’s & Children’s Hospital. “This program focuses on the ‘why’ in innovative ways that help parents better understand and remember.” 

Despite ongoing education efforts, infant mortality and sleep-related deaths continue to be a problem at national, state and local levels. Poor implementation of safe sleep practices has been identified in numerous studies, highlighting the need for innovative approaches to safe sleep education. 

“I also love that this is a home-grown innovation,” Norton added. “A need was recognized locally and the solution is being developed locally.”

The Simulation to Promote Safe Sleep program was borne of the Healthy Mom and Baby Innovation Competition, held in 2020 by Parkview Health and MATTER, which challenged innovators to submit product, software or program solutions with the potential of reducing infant mortality rates. Entries were submitted by 57 teams from 14 states and six countries.