CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs recently received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, the largest grant the hospital has ever received, which will be used to combat high infant and maternal mortality rates, hospital officials said Monday.
"This grant is designed at improving health and wellness in pregnant mothers and their babies," CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs President Dr. Douglas Ross told The Sentinel-Record on Monday.
"Unfortunately, Arkansas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, and this grant will help combat those high mortality rates," he said.
"A lot of the struggles that we've had in Arkansas is the lack of access to quality health care in parts of rural Arkansas."
The hospital plans to build upon the current Healthy Mom, Thriving Baby Project, a project focused on improving health in infants and mothers impacted by substance abuse, Ross said.
By establishing a new program called AR MOMS, the hospital will connect a network of committed rural health care partners with CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, according to a news release.
The AR MOMS program will provide pregnancy services from preconception through postpartum care to 11 rural southwest Arkansas counties, including Calhoun, Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Hot Spring, Howard, Montgomery, Ouachita, Pike, Polk and Sevier counties, the release said.
The $4 million dollar grant will be awarded to the hospital through four installments of $1 million once a year for four years. Out of only four grantees, CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs was the only facility in the state to be awarded, Ross said.
The goal of AR MOMS will be to decrease high-risk pregnancy rates across the 11 rural counties and increase access to obstetric care, promote wellness and "interrupt cycles of health inequity," which lead to alarming infant mortality rates in the state, the release said.
With 7.38 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020, Arkansas reported the third-highest infant mortality rate in the nation, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the release, Arkansas reported the second-highest infant mortality rate in the U.S. in 2021 with 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births.
"Currently, pregnant women in the program's targeted areas who reach 28 weeks are deemed high risk simply by virtue of living in a rural area," the release said.
"Some of the reasons for those high mortality rates is women across southwest Arkansas just have struggles accessing quality care," Ross said. "This grant will actually allow us to work with communities and really work with their existing obstetrics and pediatricians, pediatric providers, to augment and improve the services they provide, but also add new care sites and also work through telemedicine to help connect and really coordinate throughout the entire pregnancy."
Decreasing the number of high-risk pregnancies in the 11 rural counties through AR MOMS could lead to millions of dollars saved in preterm birth costs, the release said. That money, combined with regional strategies, could then be reinvested in the continuation of rural obstetric care, in order to sustain accessible services in rural southwest Arkansas.
"Any time there is a complication in pregnancy, that leads to significant costs to the health care system, whether it's through prolonged hospitalization, advanced and very expensive medications," Ross said.
"And if we're able to provide a better network of care to prevent complications, to ensure health throughout all of pregnancy and even after delivery for both the mom and the baby, we're going to save the health care system a significant amount of money just from preventive care," he said.
"We want to provide care not only for Garland County and Hot Springs, but we really want to provide care for all of southwest Arkansas. And we've been on a journey to do that. We're the largest health care provider in southwest Arkansas, we're the only advanced trauma center in this entire region and now, this grant just really continues that work that we've been on about caring for individuals not only in this city and this county, but across all of southwest Arkansas."