Women receiving prenatal care at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department will now be cared for together, in supportive pregnancy groups meant to increase participation and decrease preterm birth and infant mortality.
The program was announced Thursday during a community baby shower where expecting mothers enjoyed lunch, played games, and won prizes.
Amanda McCourt, left; her mother Wendy Cunningham; Amanda's sister Cynthia McCourt, standing; Lydia Smith, with Amanda McCourt's baby; Nicole Rahmel, four months old; and Lydia's husband Cody Smith. Lydia Smith, who is 27 weeks pregnant, came to the event because she has been told her baby will be premature.
The supportive group pregnancy care model allows pregnant women in similar pregnancy states to connect and attend appointments together.
It will begin in January with groups of eight to 12 women, and is funded by a $48,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare, which also finances a program in Akron, in partnership with March of Dimes.
"The benefits of it are the sessions are typically longer. Where you'd normally have 10 minutes with your provider, now the session is 90 minutes and you get the benefit of everyone sharing in the conversation," said Lisa Amlung Holloway, state director of program services and public affairs for the March of Dimes Ohio chapter.
"We know support structures are created, and women really like it."
Group pregnancy care is one of eight interventions championed by March of Dimes to reduce preterm births. Preterm births for participants decrease by about a third, Ms. Amlung Holloway said.
Celeste Smith, minority health coordinator for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said she's "ecstatic" to partner with the two entities to bring such groups to the department.
"This will be the standard of care here," she said. "There is a lot of evidence of better outcomes, particularly in the African-American community, when women are coming together and doing group prenatal care ... We're really excited to have the support to pilot this project.”
Lisa Holloway, with MOD, left, and Amy Swanson, with United Healthcare Community plan.
Preterm birth before 37 weeks gestation is the leading cause of infant mortality in Ohio. In the United States, 9.8 percent of births were preterm in 2016; in Lucas County it was 11.2 percent.
In Ohio and in Lucas County, black babies are far likelier to die before their first birthday than their white counterparts. In 2016, the Lucas County black infant mortality rate was 14.2 per 1,000 live births compared with 5.0 for white infants.
Health officials hope efforts like the one announced Thursday, sometimes called “centering” programs, will lead to decreased infant mortality.
"Centering pregnancy has been around for a long, long time, but it's expensive, so for a department like ours to come up with those dollars, this is a great opportunity," Ms. Smith said.
A similar supportive group pregnancy program runs through Neighborhood Health Association and the Ohio Department of Health. Those interested in the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department program can call the department at 419-213-4100.
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