Centering Pregnancy program could help reduce infant mortality rate in Augusta area

Providing better prenatal care through the health department and getting pregnant women to meet with peers is paying off with healthier births in south Georgia, an official said Wednesday.


Augusta hopes to get back to a similar program soon as the East Central Health District wrestles with the state’s highest infant mortality rate.

Spurred by a high premature-birth rate, the Southwest Health District began using a national model called CenteringPregnancy in October 2009. The program provides longer and earlier prenatal care visits through the Dougherty County Health Department, with referrals to the program just after a positive test, and gets women with similar due dates together regularly to discuss issues. It also urges fathers to attend.

That adds a different dynamic, said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, the director of the district based in Albany.

“Some of our most interesting conversations are with the men,” she said.

The program is paying off – only 6.7 percent of women in the program were not able to carry to term or delivered prematurely, compared with 13.8 percent overall for the district in 2010 and 14.6 percent for black women in the county, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Carrying to term is important for brain development and overall development of the baby, said Kaprice Welsh, the clinical liaison for the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society. Research shows that babies carried to later gestation have higher math and reading scores in first grade, for instance, she said.

“We’re talking long-term effects,” Welsh said.

The Albany-based program is an “empowerment model” that gives the women more confidence heading into delivery, Grant said. Of those in the program, 93 percent thought they were well-prepared for labor, and 91 percent said they were prepared to care for their newborn, she said.

The Augusta Partnership for Children had implemented a Centering program for about a year, targeting teen mothers, but the program came to a halt when the nurse practitioner left, Executive Director Robetta McKenzie said.

East Central Health District has the highest infant mortality rate among Georgia health districts – 9.4 per 1,000 compared with a state rate of 6.3 per 1,000, according to Georgia Public Health, and an estimated 5.98 per 1,000 for the U.S. this year, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Part of the problem was the demise of the Babies Born Healthy program in 2009, which was providing coverage for uninsured women who made less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and had a factor that made them high risk, such as diabetes, said Mary Jane Barrentine, the coordinator for the Augusta Regional Maternal and Infant Care Program.

“They had very few choices after this funding ended,” she said.

The health district, Georgia Health Sciences University, the Richmond County Health Department and the Augusta partnership got together to create clinic programs to provide regular prenatal care for those women and others who might have been getting care only through the emergency room, Barrentine said.

When it started, 34.4 percent of the women had been seen in the ER for care, but last fiscal year that number was down to 14 percent, she said.

“I think that’s phenomenal,” Barrentine said.

Seventy-two percent were able to carry to full- term.

The county is still plagued by a lack of access to care, said Vicki Pruitt, the deputy director for the partnership.

“It’s maternal health issues,” she said.