Regional One Health will debut a Healthy Start program for women and infants this summer thanks to a $5 million federal grant.

The program aims to provide expert medical care and community resources to help women, their babies, and their whole families improve their health and quality of life.

Patients will be enrolled through the health care system’s OB/GYN clinics and will receive care and support for two years from a multidisciplinary team.

Regional One Health will use a $5 million federal grant to establish a Healthy Start program designed to improve health and quality of life for women and infants by addressing health care disparities in our community.

“Our program is unique because it doesn’t end in our facility; it doesn’t end with clinical services,” said Contemprist Nelson, OB/GYN practice manager at Regional One Health. “It will give women the tools they need to improve their health and to create a better life for their whole family. Our goal is to transform lives and change the quality of life for the entire household.”

Regional One Health plans to kick off the program July 1 after securing $5 million in funding over five years from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Start Initiative.

Nationally, Healthy Start programs focus on improving the wellbeing of expectant and new moms. They are aimed at communities with higher-than-average infant mortality rates and focus on addressing disparities that result in higher mortality rates for women and infants of color.

At Regional One Health, Healthy Start will specifically work with Black women of reproductive age residing in zip codes with high birth rates and infant mortality rates.

Nelson said patients will be identified when they visit Regional One Health OB/GYN clinics using a risk assessment scale based on social determinants of health like access to prenatal care, housing, transportation and healthy food. The goal is to serve up to 450 families over five years.

For patients who participate, care will be provided by a multispecialty team of clinicians, social workers and educators.

Healthy Start aims to address disparities in access to health care so that expectant moms can receive the medical care they need to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

Each patient will work with a case manager and women’s health coordinator to identify the patient’s needs, connect them to resources, make sure they attend appointments, etc. Women’s health educators will provide classes on preventative care, pregnancy, childbirth and infant care.

Meanwhile, Regional One Health OB/GYNs and other specialists will ensure access to quality medical care, including for women with high-risk pregnancies and chronic medical conditions.

Nelson said the Healthy Start team will follow each patient for two years. The goal is to give them the resources they need not only through pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period, but during the early months of their baby’s life.

She said specific services will vary patient-by-patient based on individual needs, and Regional One Health is working with a variety of community partners to provide comprehensive options: “There are so many resources in our community, but they can be hard for patients to access. We’re going to connect those resources so families can get everything they need in one place.”

For example, Apple Seeds Memphis will provide mental health services, Latino Memphis will bridge language and cultural barriers for Spanish-speaking families, and a workforce development organization will help with interview skills and attire, professional demeanor, and job certification programs. Additional partners will work on housing, utilities, transportation, food access and more.

“Care won’t stop when our patients leave the hospital or clinic,” Nelson said. “We’re providing wraparound services not just for our moms, but for the family as a whole.”

Angela Adair, Director of Practice Operations and Women’s Services, said Regional One Health is committed to addressing the health care disparities that create barriers to good health.

Healthy Start will work with community partners to address social determinants of health such as food, housing, transportation, mental health care, and employment.

“Regional One Health is intentional about providing quality, comprehensive care to women in this community, and we know the health and wellness needs are great. We know healthy babies begin with healthy moms, and we’re delighted to have this opportunity to improve the health of the African American women we serve,” Adair said.

Regional One Health is uniquely positioned to provide this type of care.

The health care system has established itself as a national leader in complex care through ONE Health, which addresses both medical needs and social determinants of health for qualifying patients who have frequent emergency department visits and hospital stays.

Healthy Start is a similar model, and Regional One Health will use its complex care expertise as it establishes the new initiative. Currently, Nelson said, the health care system is hiring a program manager, assembling the care team, and lining up locations that are easily accessible by public transportation to host classes and other resources.

Health care system leaders say they’re grateful for the work that has already gone into making Healthy Start a reality, including support in the grant application process from Regional One Health Foundation and U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen.

Nelson said everyone involved shares the goal of supporting maternal health and reducing the infant mortality rate in Shelby County.

“Our goal is for our entire community to be healthier,” she said. “We know that maternal health and maternal deaths are a huge problem in our community, and that the disparity to health care access is a big part of the problem. By working to close that gap, we hope to make a difference not only for individual patients, but for our community as a whole.”

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