Press Releases

Health Official: TN’s High Infant Mortality Rate Due to Premature, Low-weight Births

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; September 25, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Children born in some third-world countries have a better chance of reaching their first birthday than some children born in America. This disturbing fact is one reason health and medical professionals gathered in Nashville September 20, 2012 for “Tennesseans Teaming up for Change: Statewide Infant Mortality Summit.”

“Too many babies are dying and some of our communities suffer more than others,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Sadly, many of these babies died from preventable causes that we – health professionals, the medical community, friends and families and society as a whole – must work together to address. While the rate of infant deaths in Tennessee has been declining, reaching 7.9 deaths per 1,000 births per year in 2010, compared with a national rate of 6.14, we had approximately one-third of Tennessee counties in 2010 where the rate of death was in the double digits per 1,000 births. It’s essential for all of us to focus on ways we can help all babies in Tennessee live to be at least one year old.”

Many believe the quality of health care determines life expectancy, but research shows that is a factor in only about ten percent of deaths. The bigger cause, responsible for approximately 40 percent of deaths, is choices or actions made by individuals. Michael Warren, MD, MPH, TDH Director of Maternal and Child Health, says much of Tennessee’s high infant mortality rate is attributable to too many premature births and low birth weights. According to Warren, both are often caused because parents don’t have adequate knowledge about healthy choices and practices before pregnancy and birth occur.

“Prematurity and low birth weight are often connected to the health of the mother before she becomes pregnant, so we must concentrate on making sure women of childbearing age are healthy and avoid behaviors such as smoking, which puts them and their babies at risk,” Warren said. “While there are higher numbers of deaths in some segments of the population, this is an issue that cuts across all socio-economic and geographic boundaries. Our challenge is to find more effective ways to talk with families about what they can do before and during pregnancy to make sure their babies live and are healthy. We have several programs, but we must do better.”

One initiative to protect a baby’s health after delivery is the TDH Safe Sleep campaign. It encourages parents to understand the “A-B-Cs of Safe Sleep” to prevent deaths while babies are sleeping. A is for Alone; always let the baby sleep alone, never in a bed with an adult or sibling where the baby could be smothered. B is for on the baby’s back; an infant should never be allowed to sleep on his or her side or stomach. C is for crib; always put you child in a crib that is empty, since blankets, toys and crib bumpers could smother a baby.

“In one Tennessee county alone, 36 babies died in 2009 from preventable sleep-related deaths,” Warren said. “We hope more parents, and grandparents and friends and family members, will help us spread the word out about safe sleeping practices.

“We also need to work together to tackle other pregnancy-related issues that affect an infant’s health, including proper nutrition and exercise, lifestyle choices, seeing a doctor for prenatal care, making sure babies are not delivered early and seeking help and assistance from existing community resources that help mothers and babies.”

Health departments in all 95 counties of Tennessee have staff members specially trained to assist mothers-to-be and new parents. These services are available to persons of all income levels. During the infant mortality summit last week at the Avon Williams campus of Tennessee State University, national leaders in combatting infant deaths provided an overview of best prevention practices. The attendees, representing a variety of medical and health organizations, formed 42 teams to take on a variety of challenges to healthy pregnancies and safe infancies.

“We’re excited about the promise of many great minds working in different areas, but still unified through a common goal,” Dreyzehner said. “That goal is seeking solutions to problems that affect whether a baby lives or dies, and how healthy it will be as it matures.”

Learn more about infant mortality in Tennessee and what you can do to make a difference at For information on the TDH Safe Sleep campaign, visit

Press Releases

State Lifts Suspension on Admissions for Center on Aging & Health

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; August 31, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health announces that the suspension of admissions at Center on Aging and Health has been lifted effective Aug. 27, 2012. The facility is a 120-bed licensed nursing home located at 880 South Mohawk Drive in Erwin.

The department confirmed the facility has returned to substantial compliance for state licensing purposes. The state deficiencies that led to the suspension of admissions have been corrected as stated in the facility’s approved plan of correction, which was approved and verified by state authorities.

On Aug. 16, the nursing home was ordered not to admit any new residents based on conditions found during a complaint investigation conducted July 16 through Aug. 6, 2012. During the inspection, surveyors found violations of the following standards: administration, performance improvement and nursing services.

For more information, visit the Department of Health online newsroom at

Press Releases

State Promoting ‘World Breastfeeding Week’

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Health; July 31, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A new or expectant mother must make a lot of decisions that affect her health and the health of her baby. Among the most important: Should I breastfeed my baby? Governor Bill Haslam has declared Aug. 1-7 World Breastfeeding Week in Tennessee to demonstrate the state’s ongoing support of this vital practice. As part of the recognition of this health observance, the Tennessee Department of Health is reminding all potential, expectant and new mothers of the importance of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies.

“Breastfeeding is the very foundation of optimal nutrition and health and is superior to formula for the vast majority of women,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We fully support all efforts to encourage more mothers to nurse their babies.”

Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, TDH director of Family Health and Wellness, says while breastfeeding can positively affect the short-term physical and psychological health of mothers and babies, it also has long-term beneficial effects.

“We often think about the benefit to babies, but breastfeeding has distinct benefits for mothers as well. Mothers who breastfeed are at reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, post-partum depression, breast and ovarian cancer and other debilitating conditions,” Warren said.

“Babies who are breastfed reap multiple health benefits, including fewer respiratory and gastrointestinal infections and fewer ear infections,” said TennCare Medical Director Jeanne James, MD. “Breastfed babies are also less likely to have allergic diseases, celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease and are less likely to develop obesity or diabetes. They are also less likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome.”

Beyond the physical and psychological benefits, mothers can save money, effort and time by breastfeeding. Employers can also save money by providing breastfeeding accommodations; breastfed babies tend to be healthier, meaning nursing mothers may be away from their jobs less to care for a sick child.

Tennessee lawmakers also support the vital practice of breastfeeding. The Tennessee General Assembly has passed laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in any location, public or private; prohibiting local governments from criminalizing or restricting breastfeeding; and requiring employers in Tennessee to accommodate breastfeeding mothers at work.

“We’re encouraging all TDH staff members to be more proactive in their conversations with expectant parents, providing information and encouragement so more women in Tennessee will adopt the important practice of breastfeeding,” Warren said. “All health departments in Tennessee have a breastfeeding advocate who can help with services and information. We routinely advise parents to talk with their family health providers about breastfeeding, learning more about the process and becoming familiar with its benefits. There are very few women who cannot breastfeed, and most find it to be an emotionally rewarding experience that enriches their life and the life of their baby.”

TDH recently updated a department-wide policy that all facilities provide a private space for breastfeeding employees. The policy now goes a step further, urging all employees to motivate and encourage more Tennessee women to choose breastfeeding for their babies.

There are health department facilities in all 95 counties in Tennessee, and these work to serve as role models to support and encourage breastfeeding,” Dreyzehner said. “We know breastfeeding is best for most women and babies, offering many health and personal economic benefits. Breastfeeding is not a lifestyle choice; it’s an optimal health choice. In fact, breastfeeding is one of the best examples of primary prevention—something we can do to prevent disease from ever occurring.”

To find your local health department, visit The following websites can provide information about breastfeeding:

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit