Harris Health System Receives $1.1 M to Help Expectant Mothers

Harris Health System has been awarded $1.1 million to help prevent long-term health problems for pregnant women and newborns through a Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns initiative coordinated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Harris Health is one of two healthcare systems in Texas and 27 nationwide to receive the CMS Innovation Center awards.

Harris Health will use a majority of the funds to continue and enhance its successful CenteringPregnancy program that incorporates health assessment, education and support for expectant mothers in a group setting. Eight to 12 women of similar gestational age meet for 10 sessions throughout their pregnancy for medical checkups and opportunities to talk to each other about their experience.

“Through this unique model of care, women are empowered to follow simple behaviors to help them ultimately deliver a healthy baby,” says Jessica Saavedra, operations manager, Strategic Programs, Harris Health System. “CenteringPregnancy groups provide a dynamic atmosphere for learning and sharing that is impossible to recreate in a one-to-one encounter. Hearing other women share concerns that mirror their own helps them to get through their pregnancy.”

During a session, expectant mothers discuss their overall health, side effects of pregnancy and concerns, including any changes since their last checkup. By attending the two-hour group sessions, the women are able to spend more time with their provider, ask questions and discuss symptoms or concerns.

The educational content for CenteringPregnancy is provided by the Centering Healthcare Institute. In February, the institute awarded Harris Health site approval certification for implementing successful CenteringPregnancy programs at its (Acres Home, Gulfgate, People’s and Squatty Lyons) health center locations. Harris Health has offered the program since 2005.

The CMS funds also will be used to hire social workers and community health workers to perform outreach to educate women in the community about the importance of early prenatal care and the Centering Pregnancy model. The 4-year program is expected to allow Harris Health to care for about 3,000 at-risk pregnant women.

More than half a million infants are born prematurely in America each year. Costs associated with preterm births are around $26 billion a year. Children born preterm require costly medical attention, often require early intervention services and special education, and can develop conditions that may affect their health and productivity as adults.  

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are helping communities across the country improve prenatal care for expectant mothers so that they can have a healthy delivery and a healthy baby,” says U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “The Strong Start initiative will help find ways to reduce the rate of preterm births, which is a public health problem with significant long-term consequences for families and children.”

Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns is a joint effort by HHS, CMS, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Administration on Children and Families (ACF). The initiative will serve more than 80,000 women enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP located 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. These approaches expand access to care, improve care coordination and provide psychosocial support to pregnant women.