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“I am encouraged by …. the momentum and commitment that is evidenced at the state and federal levels to support implementation and investigation of successful screening programs. …” — letter from U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius

Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell’s first law requiring pulse oximetry screening for newborns in New Jersey has provided momentum for federal level endorsement.

On September 21, 2011, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius adopted the recommendation to add Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD) screening to the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel (RUSP) for newborns, moving screening for CCHD one step further toward national implementation.

This recommendation came from the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children (SACHDNC), and Sec. Sebelius has asked SACHDNC to collaborate with the Health ReDests and Services Administration (HRSA) to complete a thorough evaluation of the potential public health impact of universal screening for CCHD.

O’Donnell sponsored Bill A-3744 (signed into law June 2, 2011), which requires pulse oximetry screening for all newborns in New Jersey. Pulse Oximetry is a simple, non-invasive, low-cost screening that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. This simple test can help detect CCHDs, the most common form of birth defects in newborns. O’Donnell’s third child, Patrick, was born with a CCHD.

As of August 31, 2011, New Jersey officially became the first state to implement mandatory pulse oximetry screening. Even before the passage of his bill, O’Donnell had written to Secretary Sebelius and offered testimony in support of similar pulse ox regulations on a federal level.

In Secretary Sebelius’s letter, she wrote: “I am encouraged by the emerging evidence base for the utility of early diagnosis and detection of CCHD via measurement of blood oxygen saturation, as well as the momentum and commitment that is evidenced at the state and federal levels to support implementation and investigation of successful screening programs.”

“By embracing pulse oximetry, the health care community within New Jersey has raised the bar for a newborn standard of care that should be expected throughout the nation. The knowledge that my bill has affected parents and newborns nationwide is gratifying,” said Assemblyman O’Donnell. “As the parent of a child born with CCHD, I am all too aware of the impact that a simple, non-invasive pulse ox screening can have for a family.”

“In New Jersey, before the implementation of pulse ox screening, parents could leave a hospital with their newborn knowing whether or not the child could hear, but not knowing whether or not the child had a potentially life-threatening heart issue. Our newborns deserve the best care we can provide them — adding pulse ox screening to newborn standard of care is just common sense.

“I appreciate that Secretary Sebelius is committed to advancing screening for CCHD, and I am proud that New Jersey’s example is leading the way for HHS and all states to enhance their newborn screening,” added O’Donnell.

To see Secretary Sebelius’s full letter, click here.