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Senator Clark Editorial on Passage of Premature Infant Legislation


VIEW FROM THE SENATE: Support for premature infants and their families

By Senator Katherine Clark

GateHouse News Service

Posted Sep 03, 2012 @ 12:37 PM

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Malden —

Each year in the United States, about 500,000 babies are born preterm, meaning they are born before the 37th week of pregnancy. In Massachusetts, about 160 babies are born prematurely every week, accounting for nearly 11 percent of all live births.

Last week Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill that I sponsored to provide cost-effective solutions to improve the care of these premature infants and support their families.

Thankfully, most babies born prematurely receive the care they need to grow and thrive. But many can face serious health consequences — not only in the days and weeks after birth, but throughout their lives. Children born prematurely face an increased risk of developmental challenges, infection, respiratory problems, as well as long-term complications associated with growth, nutrition and learning.

We know that many premature infants spend weeks and even months in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) receiving very specialized services. But unfortunately, when a child is ready to be discharged, parents do not always receive the instructions and information they require. In many cases, the discharge instructions and follow-up care they do receive is not standardized.

The result is that follow-up care and standard-of-care practices of health care providers may vary across the state, especially for what are referred to as late-preterm infants (those children born between 34-36 weeks gestational age). Without organized discharge plans, premature babies are more likely to experience gaps in health care and medical complications that can require hospitalization.

 To help address this challenge, I sponsored An Act Relative to Premature Infant Hospital Discharge and Quality Improvement that was signed into law by the governor last week. This new law aims to standardize the care that premature infants receive after they leave a hospital setting and empower their parents with more information.

 This legislation requires the Department of Public Health (DPH) to develop standardized procedures for hospital discharge and follow-up care for premature infants born less than 37 weeks gestational age and ensure coordinated processes are followed as these babies leave the hospital.

It also will require DPH to submit an annual report to the Legislature that uses existing perinatal databases to analyze the re-hospitalizations of premature infants and to make recommendations to improve health outcomes. This is not only good for the health of the children, but will also reduce costly hospital readmissions.

This new law received the strong support of leading advocates and health experts across the state, including the Massachusetts Hospital Association, Jewish Family & Children’s Service and the March of Dimes. It represents a positive step forward, as we work together to improve the delivery of health care and ensure that premature infants have a healthy start.

State Sen. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, represents the Middlesex and Essex district.

Read more: VIEW FROM THE SENATE: Support for premature infants and their families - Malden, Massachusetts - Malden Observer