Todd PortuneFor years, one of the reasons for our elevated infant mortality rate in Hamilton County has been far too many babies dying from sleep-related causes. This most frequently looks like an adult falling asleep next to an infant and rolling over on the baby. Since 2007, it has happened an average of 16 times a year in our county – just about double the national average.

But, in 2014, we only lost seven babies this way. To be clear, this is still seven too many. But we are encouraged by the dramatic decrease because this is an issue our entire community rallied around last year.

In the fall of 2013, Cradle Cincinnati, a local collaborative working to reduce infant deaths, announced that it would start with a focus on these highly preventable deaths. We began promoting the ABCs of safe sleep: “Babies sleep safest when they sleep Alone, on their Back and in a Crib.” What followed was a tremendous example of what our community can do when we are united.

Faith leaders began talking about safe sleep from the pulpit. Kroger put signage up in their diaper and baby-food aisles. Every maternity hospital in town changed the way it talks about this issue to families. Safe Sleep was highlighted in meetings of Cincinnati City Council, the Hamilton County Commission, the Ohio Senate and the U.S. Senate. Deskey, a local communications firm, stepped up to produce billboards, bus advertisements and radio spots. The Center for Closing the Health Gap facilitated conversations with community leaders in Walnut Hills and Mt. Auburn. Greater Cincinnati Water Works sent messages home with every water bill. The Cincinnati Health Department and the United Way joined forces to create a free crib program easily accessed by calling 211.

The list goes on and on. Partner after partner came to us and said “How can I help?” Most inspiringly, we heard this from families who had lost children themselves. These families have bravely stepped up to be our best advocates.

It is working.

When a critical mass of our neighbors comes together, change happens. Next, for our overall infant death rate to drop sustainably, we must expand our focus to include difficult issues like maternal smoking and spacing of less than one year between pregnancies that keep our preterm birth rate high. Join us.

Todd Portune is a Hamilton County commissioner and the co-chair of Cradle Cincinnati.

This editorial appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.