March Of Dimes Honors Arizona With First-Ever Newborn Screening Award

September 18, 2014

Arizona turned its newborn screening program into a model other states can follow in just a few short months, earning it the first-ever Newborn Screening Quality Award from the March of Dimes.

The March of Dimes presented Will Humble, M.P.H., Arizona’s Department of Health Services director, with the award at a ceremony held here today. Mr. Humble established a policy of full transparency for the length of time it takes Arizona hospitals to send newborn blood samples to the lab for analysis, and set a target of having 95 percent of samples screened within 72 hours.

“When hospitals hold onto blood samples for a few days, or a lab is closed on the weekend, this can lead to deadly delays for newborns,” said Edward McCabe, MD, March of Dimes chief medical officer, who presented Mr. Humble the award today. “But under Will Humble’s leadership, Arizona has put in place a process that is a model for other states to follow.”

The March of Dimes established the new awards in honor of Dr. Robert Guthrie, known as “the father of newborn screening” for developing the first mass screening test for babies 51 years ago. The awards recognize leadership in establishing culture of safety as a way to avoid those deadly delays in states’ newborn screening process. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative series highlighted the problem by telling the personal stories of babies who developed intellectual delays when their blood samples were not timely analyzed.

“Our goal is to save lives and prevent devastating disabilities for babies, and the cooperation and quick work of Arizona’s hospital officials and our state Department of Health Services staff are making that a reality,” says Mr. Humble. “Newborn screening is a vital diagnostic tool. Reducing the time it takes for a blood sample to be sent to a lab means more babies will get a healthy start in life.”

In the U.S., newborn screening is a state-run public health program that identifies infants with disorders that often are not apparent at birth. If left untreated, these conditions can cause serious illness, lifetime disabilities, and even death. In many cases, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or lessen the severity of these conditions. In the US, about 1 in 300 newborns has a condition that can be detected through screening.

Newborn screening began in 1963 when Massachusetts first screened for PKU (phenylketonuria), using a test developed by Dr. Guthrie, a March of Dimes-funded researcher.

The March of Dimes has been a long-time advocate for newborn screening. It led a nationwide campaign beginning in the 1990s to expand newborn screening from a patchwork of unequal and vastly different state programs. Today, it is recommended by the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services that every baby in every state is screened for the core panel of 31 conditions.

This year, the March of Dimes convened a Newborn Screening Quality Improvement Workgroup to address problems highlighted in the newspaper articles that focused attention on the delays in obtaining screening results. These pointed out that screening delays occurred even when insurance or the state would have covered more timely delivery of the samples to labs for analysis. Arizona hospitals previously had some of the most significant challenges in getting timely screening results, but Mr. Humble turned his state around and made Arizona a model for the nation, Dr. McCabe said.