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Nebraska groups commit $1 million to help at-risk moms and babies

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Nebraska COVID-19 cases are back on the rise, with the number of cases last week reaching the highest level in three months.

CHI Health and Nebraska’s three Medicaid managed care providers announced Wednesday that they have committed $1 million to help at-risk moms and moms-to-be deliver and raise healthy babies.

Dr. Cary Ward, CHI Health’s chief medical officer, said data shows that underserved and at-risk women have higher pregnancy complication rates and higher infant mortality rates.

Lindsay Huse, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said the county’s infant mortality rate worsened during the pandemic, ending four years of improving numbers.

In 2019, the county reached a four-year low of 6.1 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. In 2020, the figure was 6.8, an increase of 11%, according to preliminary data. The 2021 rate was 6.6.

“These rates unfortunately remain well above what we see across the state of Nebraska and across the United States,” she said.

Breaking the data down further, Huse said, Black women giving birth saw a 78% increase in infant mortality over a two-year period.

“That is not OK, and it absolutely needs to be addressed,” Huse said. The health department, she said, is committed to exploring why such disparities are occurring. But ensuring that moms have access to vital services is important to ensuring that babies in the community can survive and thrive.

Under the two-year CHI Health initiative, Ward said, CHI Health, Healthy Blue Nebraska, Nebraska Total Care and United Healthcare each have committed $250,000 — for a total of $1 million — to a partnership with Pathways Community HUB Institute.

Ward said the institute has developed an evidence-based model to coordinate care that has been successful in other communities. CommonSpirit Health, CHI Health’s parent company, is bringing the program to six communities where it operates.

“We know that we have to meet people where they are. We can’t just fix everything inside the hospital walls and the clinics,” Ward said. “We need partners to help us with this.”

Ashley Carroll, CHI Health’s division manager for community benefit and advocacy, said the institute has criteria for the organizations seeking to serve as local hubs.

The hub model involves training community health workers who will connect families to social and medical services, such as prenatal classes, jobs, housing and transportation.

The local organization chosen for the two-year pilot program won’t employ those workers but will contract with existing organizations that employ them. Participants in the program collect data in a standardized way so it can be used for review and action.

Applications will be taken until June 30 and the awardee chosen in July. The institute will begin to release funds in January as the chosen organization meets program criteria.

Carroll said CHI Health officials hope they can expand the program to other populations if the initial two-year program is successful.

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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