UI program leads nation

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By Jenna Larson

jenna-larson@uiowa.edu

The state of Iowa has made many strides in its newborn-screening program. Officials said timeliness is one of their main focuses.

The blood-spot newborn program offered in Iowa has been around for 50 years, said Carol Johnson, the Iowa Newborn-Screening follow-up coordinator.

Blood-spot testing gives medical personnel a chance to identify disorders that are either life-threatening or life-changing, Johnson said. The newborn may look perfectly healthy and normal, but some of the conditions the program screens for could happen in a matter of three hours, she said.

The blood-spot process is known for its timeliness, Johnson said.

With blood-spot testing, it’s a priority to be done within 24 to 48 hours, she said.

From the birthing center, it is then sent to the State Hygienic Lab using Iowa’s courier service, she said. By 9 p.m, all of the screenings arrive at the lab, and the samples are tested twice.

First thing in the morning, the lab team looks at the results and determines whether it is regular or has alert value, Johnson said. At that point, if it’s at alert value, medical personnel contact the hospital, look at the protocol, notify the newborn’s caregiver, and give recommendations of how to proceed.

One thing that sets Iowa apart from other states is its service hours, Johnson noted.

“We are the only program in the country that works 365 days a year,” she said. “Because of that, we are known nationally as the most-timely newborn-screening program in the country.”

Certain states, such as North Dakota and South Dakota, pay for Iowa’s resources in the lab in order to receive their newborn-screening result.

Stanton Berberich, the  state newborn-screening laboratory director who works for the Laboratory.

The laboratory sees itself as one element in the chain, he said.

“No matter how accurate the results are, if they don’t get to someone who can intervene with the baby before critical conditions occurs, our part doesn’t have much value,” he said.

For a while, the lab relied on the U.S. mail to bring the blood-spot screening card, but that was’t fast enough, Berberich said that is when the lab made the change to having couriers running all year.

“Since babies are born 365 days a year, we wanted the lab to be testing 365 days a year,” Berberich said.

Iowa genetics coordinator Kim Piper ensures that promptness in the newborn screening program is a priority.

A team of six members focuses on timeliness, Piper said. If officials notice the timeliness is lacking, Public Health officials will collaborate on what to do to fix the issue.

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