TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz to study and reduce New Jersey’s infant mortality rate was approved on Monday by the Senate.
The bill, S-1870, would require the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board to examine the effects of racial and ethnic disparities on infant mortality and make recommendations for legislative and other actions to improve birth outcomes and increase access to maternal and infant health care.
“There has to be a greater emphasis on the health of mothers and children in every community in our state, regardless of race, ethnicity and geographic location,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “There simply is no excuse for not doing everything in our power to protect babies from dying within the first year of life. New Jersey is better than that and our children and families deserve more.”
“This bill charges the Review Board to initiate a comprehensive study of the factors that contribute to infant deaths and to provide specific guidelines for improvements to medical, non-medical and system-related practices,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “It’s heartbreaking when mothers lose their children — but it’s unforgivable when it can be completely avoided.”
While New Jersey’s infant mortality rates for women of all races are lower than the national rates, the disparity between white and Black mothers is the third largest in the country. The infant mortality rate, or the number of infants who die before their first birthday per 1,000 live births, is a critical measure of public health and an indicator of social well-being. The United States’ infant mortality rate has been declining over the past decade. In 2015, there were 5.90 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 6.86 in 2005. However, the mortality rate for infants of non-Hispanic black women was almost double, at 11.25.
New Jersey’s overall rate was 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015; this translates to about 480 infant deaths that year. The rate for infants born to white mothers was 3.19, while the rates for infants born to Hispanic and non-Hispanic black mothers were 4.52 and 9.92, respectively. “As a nation we have to address the issue of infant mortality, but we have a responsibility in New Jersey to improve outcomes for our babies by taking action to address what is an unacceptable situation in our state. This bill is focused on that effort,” said Senator Ruiz.
Most nations across the globe have successfully reduced their maternal mortality rates over the past two and a half decades, in response to a United Nations’ call to action; however, the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries where maternal mortality rates have continued to rise (increasing by 27% between 2000 and 2014).
The bill would require the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board to complete and submit its report to the Governor and Legislature one year after enactment of the bill, and thereafter as deemed necessary by the commission. Any subsequent reports would also identify the extent to which the Board’s prior recommendations had been successfully implemented and their apparent impact on infant mortality in the preceding years. The bill had been previously amended in the Senate to include provisions to increase breastfeeding support services among racial and ethnic populations throughout the state.
The bill was approved 38-0 and next goes to the Assembly for consideration.