AR Briefly

Arkansas joins national maternal health care alliance

By: - October 3, 2022 6:06 pm

Arkansas recently became the 48th state to join a national maternal health support organization that provides evidence-based standards of medical care to pregnant people, with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Department of Health spearheading the move.

States qualify for enrollment in the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) by developing a competent “perinatal collaborative group” that will distribute the “protocol-driven” standards of care statewide, said Nirvana Manning, UAMS’ obstetrics and gynecology chair.

Manning was one of three UAMS faculty to give a presentation on Arkansas’ maternal health needs, including efforts to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, to the state Legislature’s joint Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor on Monday at UAMS in Little Rock.

AIM creates “patient safety bundles,” or maternal health care plans and best practices, that state health systems distribute to providers. Arkansas has 37 hospitals that deliver babies, Manning said.

“This will be kind of a lifelong process where we consistently supply them data on how we are implementing those bundles within our institution here at UAMS and throughout the state,” she said.

The bundles include instructions on how to address various health scenarios during pregnancy so providers “don’t have to think outside the box” or lose precious time while treating patients, Manning said.

UAMS is working to provide “safe care, close to home” in rural areas of Arkansas that do not currently have nearby OB/GYN providers, Manning told the joint committee.

A provision in the federal American Rescue Plan Act gives states the option to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months after birth. As of Thursday, 37 states had applied for this option to some extent, but Arkansas has not applied.

Manning said this Medicaid coverage expansion “can do wonders” for maternal health in Arkansas.

Arkansas does not currently have a system of “severe maternal morbidity surveillance,” said Jennifer Callaghan-Koru, a UAMS associate professor with a research focus on maternal health.

However, some estimates indicate that 195 of every 10,000 births from Medicaid recipients in Arkansas result in severe maternal morbidity, defined as “unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short-term or long-term consequences to a woman’s health,” Callaghan-Koru said. The national average is 144 per 10,000.

Arkansas has the second-highest teen birth rate in the country, and one in four Arkansas mothers experience postpartum depression or anxiety, Callaghan-Koru said.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.