Nurse’s Advice Couldn’t Save Baby

Nurse’s Advice Couldn’t Save Baby

John Stucke / The Spokesman-Review

January 17, 2009

Police have charged Andrew Whitmire with the death of Izayah Denison, alleging Whitmire shook the infant in a fit of frustration because he wouldn’t stop crying.

It’s a story too often told. In Spokane County one to two babies die each year from being shaken.

Yet Whitmire and his girlfriend, Izayah’s mother Jenuah (pronounced Gina) Denison, knew better: The couple were visited a few days before the baby was injured by a public health nurse, who repeated advice she had offered in earlier visits on the dangers of shaking a baby.

Whitmire and Denison were participating in First Steps, a state-funded program that helps poor, pregnant women receive parenting education from nurses.

Such early intervention is considered a key to preventing child abuse, and health officials laud programs like First Steps that offer direct education to at-risk families. The program serves 29,000 women, many of them single, unemployed and without a high school diploma, each year in Washington.

Now, the state budget crisis is cutting the program by 20 percent. Currently, about 42 percent of all eligible mothers are visited by nurses from the program in Spokane, a rate that will drop after the cuts. In King County the rate is 91 percent, and it’s 71 percent in Yakima, said Julie Graham, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District.

When babies seen by First Steps nurses are shaken, a review is launched to determine whether program protocols were followed.

“Unfortunately, sometimes these events happen, and there is absolutely nothing that we could have done to prevent it,” said Marilyn Walli, the health district’s First Steps manager.

The protocols include having the mother and other primary caregivers who participated in visitations sign a statement that they received information.

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