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As an island community in an island region, Ketchikan knows the importance of air and sea transportation.

May 19 will be a remarkable day in Ketchikan. Seven cruise ships are expected to bring 13,226 passengers to the First City, beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 8 p.m. That's more than 2,000 above the highest cruise passenger day a year ago.

Margaret Mae Bolton, 83, died April 15, 2017, in Ketchikan.
Courtney Marie Marshall, 36, died April 11, 2017, in Seattle.
Marcario Rado, 58, died April 10, 2017, in Ketchikan.
Ralph Lloyd Grooms, 91, died April 13, 2017, in Ketchikan.
Good for babies

Almost hidden behind the big legislative debate about oil taxes, along with a multitude of other bills, is a little measure affecting the littlest Alaskans.

House Bill 90, proposed by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, would establish a one-year program within the Department of Health and Social Services to test newborn Alaskans for vitamin D.

Insufficient vitamin D in newborns leads to higher incidence of mental and physical health problems, according to information provided to Seaton. Solutions to those problems lead to high costs to individuals and the state for medical care, and education and support services.

Essentially, such problems get little Alaskans off to a slower start than necessary or optimal.

Seaton's bill asks that DHSS begin a program that would involve testing Alaska's newborns as soon as possible after birth to determine a baseline for vitamin D. The 12-month testing period would begin on or before Jan. 1, 2014.

The testing would be an added optional blood test to the two metabolic screens that Alaska already requires of newborns. That testing is carried out with a heel prick, with a drop of blood collected on a sheet of test paper. The vitamin D test could be conducted with the same heel prick.

The results would be provided to the state as well as parents and guardians. A mother would be able to decline the testing.

The state would contract with a laboratory that is affiliated with an accredited American university and that is conducting clinical research regarding vitamin D and newborns nationwide for lab and analytic services of the samples acquired in the program.

"Studies on the vitamin D levels in different populations in Alaska have generally found Alaskans to be deficient," Seaton says. "There is a broad body of research that suggestions vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency has negative health impacts. Knowledge of the vitamin D levels in Alaska newborns will allow health-care providers and policymakers to more accurately address and help prevent the health challenges facing Alaska."

The one-year program would cost the state about $300,000.

This bill appears to be endorsing a means to avoid heart-breaking and costly medical issues for Alaskans, beginning by testing newborns. The result would be ensuring sufficient vitamin D levels at life's start to prevent health problems. Through prevention, Alaskans will be healthier and Alaska will be in better fiscal shape.

The bill is in the House Health and Social Services committee.