AHW Health Research Grants Support Maternal Health Improvements in Wisconsin

January 23, 2024 Posted by AHW Endowment

A picture of a mother and her doctor; AHW Health Research Grants Support Maternal Health Improvements in Wisconsin

January 23 is Maternal Health Awareness Day, a reminder to advocate and spread awareness for maternal health equity and to share education surrounding preventable causes of maternal deaths in the U.S. Understanding and addressing maternal health disparities is essential to more equitable and inclusive healthcare, ensuring that every mother has access to high-quality prenatal and postnatal care.

According to the March of Dimes, for every 100,000 births in Wisconsin, 11.6 birth mothers die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, and 10.7% of birth mothers had less than 50% of the appropriate number of doctor visits during their pregnancy. In our state, maternal mortality is disproportionately experienced among Black mothers, who experience higher rates compared to their White counterparts. Prenatal care, high-quality healthcare, and socioeconomic factors contribute to these disparities.

The Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment (AHW) funds and supports projects driving improvements to maternal health care in Wisconsin and increasing knowledge surrounding maternal health issues. Here, we highlight some of the ways AHW is helping to advance maternal health in Wisconsin through health research grants and other initiatives.

AHW Health Research Grants for Maternal Health in Wisconsin

Drug-Free Communities of Fond Du Lac County: Action Planning to Support Drug-Free Pregnancy

Drug use by pregnant and postpartum mothers can have negative outcomes for both mothers and babies, resulting in potentially low birth weights, early births, and drug dependencies in newborns. In Fond du Lac County, healthcare providers identified a rise in the number of pregnant women using opioids and other drugs who delivered babies that experienced the negative health effects of drug use.

With health research grant funding from AHW, Fond du Lac School District and Drug-Free Communities of Fond du Lac County developed a strategic action plan to expand early identification of drug use in pregnant women and designed a support system to encourage long-term success and outcomes for the mothers and their babies.

Through this project, community partners explored gaps and barriers in the area’s maternal healthcare services, conducted focus groups with mothers to learn about their experiences, and developed a strategic plan and partnership growth and sustainability plan to implement a wrap-around support system for mothers and babies affected by opioid use during pregnancy.

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Integrating Trauma Screening and SBIRT to Enhance W-2 Case Management Services

In Wisconsin, expectant mothers and parents have access to employment preparation services, case management, and financial assistance through Wisconsin Works (W-2), the primary Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program administered by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

In the past, mental health assessments were limited to the program’s intake phase, without ongoing monitoring. However, in a project funded by an AHW health research grant and led by Workforce Resource, Inc., in collaboration with the Medical College of Wisconsin’s (MCW’s) Leslie Ruffalo, PhD, MS (Family and Community Medicine), introduced a Trauma Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (T-SBIRT) protocol into case management procedures. The project aimed to facilitate participants' access to mental health services, impart healthy coping mechanisms, and enhance resilience in dealing with trauma.

Following a successful pilot in Ashland and Eau Claire counties, the project expanded to encompass 14 additional counties. This expansion ensures that mental health resources are now accessible to pregnant women and parents across various communities in Wisconsin.

AHW Administers Federal Funds to Improve Maternal and Child Health

In 2022, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that it would be directing federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to MCW and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health to invest in maternal and child health improvement initiatives, with AHW administering funds directed to MCW.

AHW invited applications for the ARPA funds from around the state to develop and improve strategies to address social determinants that contribute to Wisconsin’s significant disparities in maternal and child health outcomes. AHW also worked with MCW internal departments to identify promising research projects focused on maternal and child health that qualified for the ARPA funding.

Of the 10 community-led projects (shown below) selected for ARPA health research grants after a rigorous review process, three provide services statewide, three are focused on Milwaukee, three address health challenges in rural areas of the state, and one serves tribal members in three northern Wisconsin counties. Each of the projects that are receiving health research grant funding will combat maternal and infant mortality and strengthen health outcomes for families across Wisconsin.

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Spreading Maternal Health Awareness Through Expert Conversations

In the May 2023 MCW’s Coffee Conversations with Scientists monthly video livestream (funded and supported by AHW), Anna Palatnik, MD (Obstetrics and Gynecology), discussed the science behind maternal morbidity and mortality, what causes maternal health disparities, and what is being done to advance maternal healthcare for all women.

The episode aired on MCW’s Facebook page to an audience of live listeners, highlighting the rising rate of maternal mortalities and morbidities in Wisconsin. According to Dr. Palatnik, “A lot of progress has been made in improving maternal health, but still, many women start pregnancy with suboptimal health, and many experience complications, both medical complications and obstetric complications in pregnancy and childbirth.”

One of the topics discussed in the live broadcast was what can be done to reduce maternal health and maternal health disparities at the patient, provider, and system levels. Dr. Palatnik suggested that working toward healthier diets and lifestyles is an essential first step for mothers to achieve health before pregnancy and improve post-pregnancy health outcomes.

Developing better maternal healthcare policies, establishing higher-quality maternal health practices, supporting a more diverse healthcare workforce, and increasing postpartum monitoring are all important steps toward better maternal health for mothers across all of our communities.

Watch the full Coffee Conversations with Scientists episode on maternal health here.

Advancing Maternal Health in Wisconsin

Maternal health research and spreading awareness around maternal health issues and inequities are essential to creating optimal outcomes for all Wisconsin mothers. AHW is proud to support ongoing research and advancements to ensure better health for every mother.

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