The project will focus on workflows to increase the timeliness and comprehensiveness of postpartum care, a virtual maternal-fetal medicine specialty consultation service including e-consult and telehealth capability for women with high-risk conditions served at rural community health centers, and support for community doula training and the development of a community doula collaborative in rural Chatham County.
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation in the world and more than double the rate of its peers, with significant disparities faced by women of color and rural women. With this in mind, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), recently awarded more than $65 million to 35 HRSA-funded Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to pilot new, scalable innovations to address the maternal mortality crisis.
Piedmont Health Services (PHS), a multisite FQHC whose decades-long partnership with UNC Family Medicine has focused on the care of rural and other medically underserved populations as well as on the training of medical professionals in community settings, was awarded $1.75 million to combat maternal health inequities with the large minority populations it serves. PHS has engaged UNC Family Medicine and the Chatham County Public Health Department to support a multi-pronged quality improvement project that will center the voices and lived experience of individuals experiencing these inequities.
The project will focus on perinatal interdisciplinary care team (IDT) workflows to increase the timeliness and comprehensiveness of postpartum care, a virtual maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialty consultation service including e-consult and telehealth capability for women with high-risk conditions served at PHS rural community health centers, and support for community doula training and the development of a community doula collaborative in rural Chatham County, North Carolina.
Brian Toomey, MSW, CEO of PHS, sees the important role that FQHCs can play in addressing maternal health disparities.
“I am so pleased to see two awards from HRSA’s Bureau of Primary Health Care come to North Carolina – C.W. Williams in Charlotte was also funded – and believe this work can play an important part in supporting the goals of the NCDHHS’ Perinatal Health Strategic Plan 2022-2026, and our work with local partners,” Toomey said.
Mike Zelek, health director of the Chatham County Public Health Department could not agree more. The CCPHD is spearheading the Equity for Moms and Babies Realized Across Chatham (EMBRACe) project, a multi-stakeholder project focused on birth equity in Chatham.
“EMBRACe, which recently won the Community Partner of the Year Award from our Board of Health, highlights the importance of partnership, coordination, community and equity to address our greatest public health challenges, and this HRSA award can further support our collaborative approach,” Zelek said.
Marni Holder, MSN, RN, director of community health initiatives at UNC Family Medicine, who worked with the University, PHS, and community leadership to spearhead the proposal submission, is particularly interested in opportunities like this one which can further ongoing innovative work between academic health centers, community safety-net providers, and the communities being served.
“I am very excited to see how this award to our local Federally Qualified Health Center organization, when combined with the input of UNC Family Medicine’s maternal health faculty and the voices of the pregnant community being served, can lead to positive developments in our regional perinatal care model, particularly for our rural communities,” Holder said.
Joan East, MD, director of the PHS Innovation Center, who will oversee the project, hopes this work can be a catalyst for ongoing work.
“With such a large and diverse perinatal population being served at PHS, it is my hope that this two-year project will allow us to create new infrastructure for future collaboration to address perinatal health inequities,” East said.
Learn more about the initiative here.