The March of Dimes has selected the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System as the Illinois site to implement its new program to reduce premature delivery. UI Health will receive $40,000 a year for three years from the March of Dimes to support the pilot program.
March of Dimes has implemented the program, called “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait,” at more than 30 sites in Kentucky, Texas, Kansas, New Jersey and New York.
A full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Premature delivery — defined as before 37 weeks of gestation — and extreme prematurity, before 32 weeks, add significant risk for a host of immediate and lifelong health problems, including developmental delays and heart and lung problems. Costs of caring for a premature infant can reach half a million dollars if longterm care in a neonatal intensive care unit is needed.
Nearly 10 percent of births in the U.S. are premature, but among UI Health’s largely disadvantaged patient population, the rate is about 15 percent — half again the national rate.
“The patients we see at UI Health have higher rates of medical and obstetrical complications and so are at higher risk for having their babies prematurely,” says Dr. Dimitrios Mastrogiannis, director of maternal-fetal medicine at UI Health and a co-principal investigator on the grant.
“Several socioeconomic factors contribute to premature birth in our patient population,” Mastrogiannis said. African Americans are at the highest risk and account for about half of UI Health’s patient population.
UI Health has already adopted state-of-the-art screening methods for all pregnant patients to identify those at risk for preterm delivery. Screening includes careful analysis of medical history combined with measuring the length of the cervix. A shortened cervix at 24 weeks has been linked to a higher risk for premature delivery.
For patients at high risk, “administration of progesterone compounds can decrease the risk of pre-term birth by more than 40 percent,” said Mastrogiannis.
Under the the Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait program, all women who call for prenatal care appointments at UI Health and its Mile Square Health Centers — about 2,500 patients annually — will be interviewed to determine their risk for preterm delivery. Women at higher risk will be matched with an advanced practice OB-GYN nurse and a community health worker specializing in coordinating and removing barriers to care. All women will be offered classes to learn about healthy pregnancy.
“Providing extra follow up and specialized care to high-risk women can bring premature birth rates down,” said Beena Peters, associate director of nursing for women and children’s health services at UI Health and co-principal investigator on the grant. Proper prenatal care can help prevent about half of all premature births, she said.