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Safe Sleep Awareness and Training Is Saving Babies in Cuyahoga County

by Amy Neumann , Senior Director, Marketing and Communications, First Year Cleveland
First Year Cleveland is helping to tackle the challenge of high infant mortality rates (IMR) in Cuyahoga County. Created in late 2015 with financial support from Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland as well as other organizations, First Year Cleveland's mission is to mobilize the community through partnerships and a unified strategy to reduce infant deaths. There are three priority areas: reduce racial disparities, address extreme prematurity, and eliminate preventable sleep-related deaths.

This collaborative initiative draws on the wisdom of the community across Greater Cleveland from grassroots efforts to executive leadership. The goal is to reduce infant deaths, particularly among African American babies.

One area showing improvement in decreasing the overall infant mortality rate is preventable sleep-related deaths. Those numbers have dropped from 27 sleep-related deaths in 2015, to 21 in 2016, and 13 in 2017. That is a 35 percent drop year-over-year in sleep-related deaths between 2016 and 2017.

Baby sleeping in crib on back
Babies should always sleep Alone, on their Backs, in a Crib, and Don’t smoke.

Almost all of the 200 sleep-related deaths in Cuyahoga County in the past 10 years have been due to accidental suffocation. Practicing safe sleep is the best way to help prevent suffocation.

An August 2018 editorial piece noted, “The good news is that preliminary work to tackle this problem [of infant mortality] by First Year Cleveland -- an unprecedented local public-private coalition of elected officials, hospitals, religious institutions, medical providers, educators and health researchers -- is making inroads. Cuyahoga County's infant mortality rate fell last year to 8.11 deaths per 1,000 live births, still too high.” For comparison, the infant mortality rate was 10.5 in 2015, and 8.7 in 2016. The national IMR was 5.9 in both 2016 and 2017.

Several programs already in place do appear to be reducing the number of sleep-related deaths, and more programs are being added. The MetroHealth System, in partnership with University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic, is leading a workforce campaign that will leverage internal company platforms to teach safe sleep to employees.

“We’ve done safe sleep education, training, and community conversations for many levels of hospital staff in all the hospital systems, as well as for childbirth educators, home visitors, faith-based groups, CenteringPregnancy™ [group prenatal care] groups, in-home day care providers, and community groups,” said Lorrie Considine, RN, Program Manager at Cuyahoga County Board of Health. “Agencies such as DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services] have developed their own safe sleep program to review with their clients. We also have Cribs for Kids programs that provide individual conversations about safe sleep before participants receive a pack-n-play. All of these need to be ongoing to reach families because when babies are born we have new parents and new caregivers every day.”

Sandi Hoch, Childbirth Education Coordinator at The MetroHealth System, has led safe sleep training for several hundred MetroHealth employees.

“We’re reaching large numbers of new people,” said Hoch. “For example, we reached 1200 men around Cuyahoga County in 2017 through talks about safe sleep held by Tim Greenwood, Bootcamp facilitators, and myself, supported by CareSource. MetroHealth and the Ohio Department of Health also ran a large number of high-profile ads to support safe sleep practices.”

“Every person who is in a baby’s life needs to be sure to remember the Safe Sleep ABCD’s: Alone, on her Back, in a Crib, and Don’t smoke,” Hoch added. “We can all be Safe Sleep Heroes for our babies.”

The ABC's of Safe Sleep
The ABCD’s of Safe Sleep.

There are eleven Action Teams supporting First Year Cleveland’s three priority areas. Action Team 10, the Safe Sleep Heroes team, is launching safe sleep training this Fall. Employers are encouraged to offer the digital training to all of their employees to spread the message of safe sleep. The training will be modeled around what MetroHealth has been doing internally with their employees and in the community over the past year and a half. If you’re interested in having the training at your workplace, please email

First Year Cleveland’s goal is for Safe Sleep Heroes to become a community movement that will train 10,000 Safe Sleep Heroes by the end of 2019. It has the potential to touch every person in a baby’s life – mom, dad, grandparents, childcare providers, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, teachers – making sure every baby sleeps safely, every nap and every bedtime.

Would you like to help babies sleep safely? Learn more about First Year Cleveland at

Get involved helping to promote safe sleeping for babies in your community by signing up for information on becoming a Safe Sleep Hero at