Serna wants to save our kids

Jeff vonKaenel

When I am having a bad day, I ask myself if my kids are healthy. I feel such relief that my kids are all right that my other problems, such as cash flow, disagreements at work and traffic, all seem small in comparison. I am instantly cheered up.

I have known parents who have lost their children, and, frankly, I do not know if I am strong enough to suffer that level of grief. I pray that I will never go through that kind of experience.

Unfortunately, this is the very experience that the families of 3,633 Sacramento County children, who died between 1990 and 2009, had to suffer through.

These young lives and deaths were studied and documented by the Sacramento County Child Death Review Team, which recently issued a grueling, statistic-heavy report. The report broke down natural and accidental deaths, the parts of town where children are most at risk, the links between drug use and prenatal conditions, and different risk levels for different racial populations, to name just a few topics. The report’s conclusion: Way too many of the deaths were preventable.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna would like to do to something about that. Unlike many politicians who can provide great sound bites but have little understanding of the issues, Serna really does his homework, studying the governmental processes so that he can effectively use his position and power to get things done.

He told me that when he ran for supervisor he didn’t expect to deal with this issue. But as the head of the Sacramento County First 5 Commission, he has an opportunity to make a real difference in reducing children’s deaths. Unlike other governmental agencies, the Sacramento County First 5, which receives its funds from a tobacco settlement, still has money. The state recently failed in an attempt to raid its funds.

Now, Serna wants to put those funds to use to make a difference. The report identified a disproportionate number of African-American children who are dying. While African-American children represent only 12 percent of the population, they represent 22 percent of all child deaths. Phil Serna wants to find out why, and more importantly, what we can do about it. He has put together an all-star Sacramento County Blue Ribbon Commission and committed $5 million in funding to study and recommend programs aimed “at reducing the disproportionate number of deaths among African American infants.”

With such a powerful commission, including Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Sierra Health Foundation president and CEO Chet Hewitt along with many other distinguished community and healthcare leaders, and with this level of funding, I expect results. They will find a way to reduce the deaths.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.