American Heart Association calls on Kansas to mandate newborn screening

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The American Heart Association is calling on the state of Kansas to mandate screening of every newborn for heart defects.

Jacob Voise was born several weeks ago at Children's Mercy Hospital. He's had to stay because of a lung problem.

Jacob is from Wichita. Had he been born in Kansas, he wouldn't have necessarily had one newborn screening.

"We would have had to ask for it," said his mother, Reese Voise.

It's the pulse oximetry screening required for newborns in Missouri and more than 30 other states, but not Kansas. A sensor is wrapped around the baby's foot or hand to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. A low-level can be a sign of a critical heart defect. The heart association says the screening is important in catching the 20 percent of defects that are not detected in other ways. Parents take their babies home not knowing.

"It seems like every month we admit a baby in that situation where they're very sick coming in from home," said Dr. Steven Olsen, a neonatologist at Children's Mercy.

Dr. Olsen says those babies are at greater risk of long-term problems and death. He joins the heart association in asking the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to mandate screening of every newborn now.

Kansas instead has a quality improvement initiative aimed at encouraging hospitals to do the screening.

"Any changes in policy or operations should only come after adequate assessment and education with our stakeholders," said Miranda Steele, a department spokesperson.

Dr. Olsen says screening protocols are already in place nationally, and it shouldn't take time for the state to act.

"No, it should be quickly," he said.

The heart association says the $4 screening should be mandated while the state works on quality improvement, and not the other way around.

The state health department says it would need a legal review to see if it could mandate the screening without legislative approval.

Dr. Olsen says many hospitals in larger cities in Kansas already do the screening, but not those in smaller communities.

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