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New partnership will offer prenatal check-ins, pregnancy care in Milwaukee

Froedtert, Penfield Children's Center will offer group pregnancy care thanks to grant funding

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Miracle Allen rubs her pregnant stomach as she relaxes before meeting with the midwife
Miracle Allen rubs her stomach as she relaxes before meeting with the midwife at Sisters in Birth, a Jackson, Miss., clinic that serves pregnant women, Dec. 17, 2021. Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo

A Milwaukee nonprofit and Froedtert Health are launching a new initiative to improve health outcomes for pregnant people and infants by offering prenatal care in a community setting.

Funded by a grant from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Penfield Children’s Center will be offering group pregnancy care sessions. Participants with similar due dates will meet regularly at the nonprofit’s location for pregnancy-related classes and to get an individual prenatal check-up through a new maternal mobile clinic operated by Froedtert. They’ll also be able to access postpartum care at the mobile clinic and work with a social care navigator at Penfield to access additional support.

Mark Stevens, director of health services at Penfield, said his organization primarily supports families of young children with disabilities or developmental delays. The initiative is their first focused on pregnancy. He said the new partnership with Froedtert will help the families they work with better access the care they need to give kids the best start.

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“The disparities between the prenatal care of different populations is pretty significant,” Stevens said. “I think a big part of that is: How are we getting these birthing people to see the doctor? How are we getting these checkups? How are we making sure that they’re staying healthy throughout the pregnancy?”

Between 2006 and 2010, Wisconsin saw an average of 5.9 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the state Department of Health Services. That’s lower than the U.S. average, at 16 deaths.

But Wisconsin has a much higher disparity between Black and white pregnant people than the nation as a whole. DHS reported that pregnancy-related deaths in Black women in the state were five times greater than the rate in white women from 2006 to 2010. By comparison, the national rate for Black women was only 3.2 times higher than white women.

Lauri Diske, director of women’s services at Froedtert Hospital, said they’re hoping the new group pregnancy partnership will also help address the racial disparities in infant mortality rates in Wisconsin.

DHS data shows Black infants are three times more likely to die before their first birthdays than white infants in the state.

“The reality is without a healthy mom, we’re not going to have a healthy baby,” she said. “Prematurity and low birth weight are some of the highest causes of infant mortality, and prematurity is the leading cause in the city of Milwaukee. So by doing this, we’ll be able to affect those patients.”

Diske said there are many factors behind the racial disparities for moms and babies, including social issues like housing or food insecurity.

“Patients don’t have transportation to get to the bricks and mortar clinics, and they don’t trust health care in general,” she said. “From a health standpoint, moms are having babies later in life. There are already some issues with their health, cardiac issues, diabetes, obesity, which … increases the risk for any kind of pregnancy-related complication.”

Diske said she’s hopeful the new mobile clinic and their partnership with Penfield will help fill these needs, allowing patients to access care outside of the time constraints of a traditional doctor’s office and at an organization that has a longstanding relationship with their community.

UW School of Medicine also awarded maternal health grants to the Birth Outcomes Made Better Doulas Program at the Milwaukee Health Department and family-centered services at Meta House, a nonprofit addiction treatment program in Milwaukee.

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