Rod Thornurg/For The Californian

Public Health's Matt Constantine

Kern County health officials are warning parents not to sleep with their newborns for fear of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death after seven babies died last year while in bed with adults.

Those seven babies were among 42 children whose deaths were investigated by the Kern County Child Death Review Team, which determines whether fatalities involving kids involved abuse or negligence. In a report published Tuesday, the team named SUIDs as among the worst and most preventable killers of children along with suicide and drownings, which took six lives each last year.

Although the number of babies who died as a result of poor sleeping conditions has been cut in half from the county’s 2014 high of 16, seven death is still too many, Russell Hasting, a supervising public health nurse and chairman of the CDRT, said during his report to the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

“This isn’t an indicator to let our foot off the gas. We’ve got to double down if we want to get those numbers down to zero,” Hasting said.

He and Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine called on local hospitals to do more to ensure every new mother leaves their facilities with a crib or pack-and-play for newborns to bed down in. It’s something Kern Medical already provides, Constantine added.

“Every hospital should do it,” he said. “Every child who’s born here should leave with a playpen. We make sure they leave with a car seat; we don’t make sure they leave with a play pen. We’ll find a way to do it.”

Meanwhile, public health officials have been working to create safer swimming environments for children after six drowned last year – five in pools and one in the Kern River. Five of those kids were younger than 9 years old.

The Kern County Public Health Services Department launched a “water watchers” campaign last year, handing out lanyards and establishing that all 750 public pools that the department regulates have a designated adult watching over children.

“That’s their role. No distractions,” Hasting said.

The department also offered CPR training on sidewalks outside of public agencies, schools and local pools, including McMurtrey Aquatic Center.

Now Hasting is stressing more community outreach and basic water skills for children.

“We’ve got to take every opportunity to educate our youngsters, regardless of how young, on how to be safer around bodies of water,” Hasting said.

Constantine said that by taking steps now to address death trends identified in the report, better outcomes could be had by next year.

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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