CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs landed a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve access to high-quality prenatal care for pregnant women across 11 counties in southwest Arkansas.
The four-year grant will expand CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs’ “Healthy Mom, Thriving Baby” project by establishing AR MOMS, a network of rural healthcare partners to coordinate a continuum of pregnancy services from pre-conception through postpartum care. The program aims to decrease high-risk pregnancy rates across the region, increase access to obstetric care, promote wellness and interrupt cycles of health inequity that lead to Arkansas’ exceptionally high rates of infant and maternal mortality.
“Residents in many of these counties currently have limited or no access to prenatal and maternity care resources. On top of that, communities struggle with food insecurity, poverty and limited access to technology among other challenges,” said CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs President Dr. Douglas Ross. “We want to interrupt those cycles and make sure these babies and their mothers have the best start possible. CHI St. Vincent has the long-standing relationships with Southwest Arkansas’ rural providers and now the resources necessary to take that work to the next level.”
In 2021, Arkansas reported the second highest infant mortality rate in the nation with 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births. Maternal mortality was also near the worst nationally at 28.9 deaths per 1,000, but that number nearly doubles for non-Hispanic Black Arkansas women.
Currently, 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.
The AR MOMS program will work with community partners to increase local access to care, ensure mothers can access risk appropriate obstetric care near them up until at least 32 weeks and improve access telemedicine across the 11 Southwest Arkansas counties, including: Calhoun, Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Hot Spring, Howard, Montgomery, Ouachita, Pike, Polk and Sevier counties.
“One in three women in these areas receive no first trimester obstetric care at all. 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.”
Over the past three years, approximately 5,000 mothers gave birth in the 11 counties targeted in the AR MOMS project. Decreasing the rate of high-risk pregnancies in the region could lead to millions of dollars in saved preterm birth costs.