University of Iowa using $10 million state grant to address maternal healthcare crisis

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) Last month, UnityPoint Health - Marshalltown announced its obstetrics and women's health clinic would be shutting its doors. It's the latest in a change of closures.

"We've had 34 hospitals since 2000 close their labor and delivery units,” said Stephen Hunter, University of Iowa Professor of obstetrics and gynecology and Vice-Chair for obstetrics.

University of Iowa officials say they've felt the impacts of that seeing an influx of patients turning to them, or many expectant mothers having to travel outside of their means to get care.

They're hoping a 5 year, $10 million grant will help bring solutions. Starting with creating a network of healthcare professionals to treat long-distance patients using telecommunications technology.

"Telemedicine is going to stretch the reach of the physicians we do have in our state, and so telemedicine will be another component of this project," said Hunter.

Hunter says the recent closures can also be attributed to a shortage of qualified providers in the state, so the university is looking at starting a rural track ob-gyn residency position with the funding, as well as a certified nurse midwife training program.

"The number of family medicine physicians that are choosing to practice obstetrics in our state after completing their residency has dropped,” Hunter added.

However, what Hunter says is most disturbing is the increasing maternal mortality rates.
In Iowa, it's doubled in the three-year period of 2015 to 2018, compared to the previous three years.

"Our patients are sicker than they have ever been. You combine that decreasing access to care and that’s not a very good recipe for a good outcome," Hunter said.

They'll spend the first year collecting data and analyzing the need before implementing the programs, but Hunter says he's hopeful.

"I’m hopeful that they will eventually not only slow down the trend, but reverse the trend we're seeing," he said.

Iowa is one of nine states to receive a State Maternal Health Innovation Program grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.