CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs on Monday announced it had received a $4 million federal grant to improve maternity health care in 11 counties in southwest Arkansas.
The four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the largest the Hot Springs-based health provider has ever received. CHI said the money will support its "Healthy Mom, Thriving Baby" project, which aims to establish a network of rural health care partners to coordinate pregnancy services from pre-conception through postpartum care.
The network, called AR MOMS, aims to decrease high-risk pregnancy rates across a 6,900-square mile area, increase access to obstetric care, promote wellness and interrupt cycles of health inequity that have contributed to Arkansas’ high rates of infant and maternal mortality.
Dr. Douglas Ross, president of CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, said many counties that will benefit from the program have limited or no access to prenatal and maternity care resources. Pregnant women in the program’s targeted areas who reach 28 weeks are deemed high risk simply by virtue of living in a rural area; a third of them don't receive any obstetric care in their first trimester.
"On top of that," Ross said in a news release, "communities struggle with food insecurity, poverty and limited access to technology among other challenges. We want to interrupt those cycles and make sure these babies and their mothers have the best start possible."
The 11 counties in the program are: Calhoun, Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Hot Spring, Howard, Montgomery, Ouachita, Pike, Polk and Sevier. About 5,000 women gave birth in those counties over the past three years.
CHI said that decreasing the rate of high-risk pregnancies in the region could lead to millions of dollars in saved preterm birth costs. Combined with regional strategies, that money could be reinvested in rural obstetric care to sustain services in the region.
"We have an opportunity here to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates by ensuring that they have access to appropriate prenatal care," Ross said. "That also means improving lifelong outcomes for them, their families and everyone throughout these communities."