The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will invest about $2 million to improve maternal health care in Arkansas, according to an announcement from the agency on Monday.
The University of Arkansas System will receive about half the funding with St. Vincent Hospital in Hot Springs receiving the other half.
The funding, which is coming through the Health Resources and Services Administration, aims to increase access to maternal and obstetrics care in rural communities and support the state in tackling inequities in maternal health, according to a news release. It will help to implement the "White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis" in Arkansas.
"Today, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause in this country than white women. That has to change," said Carole Johnson, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration. "To make meaningful change, we need to center our work on the individuals and families we are serving, and that is what today's investments aim to do."
About 700 people die each year during pregnancy or in the year after, according to the news release. Thousands of women each year have unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery with serious short- or long-term health consequences. Rural populations tend to have worse maternal health outcomes than individuals living in urban areas, and there are disparities experienced by racial and ethnic groups.
The $998,879 being awarded to the UA System will be used to create a state-led maternal health task force, according to the news release.
The task force will use Arkansas-specific maternal health data to develop innovative approaches to address the most pressing maternal health needs and disparities in health outcomes, according to the release. Innovations can cover four categories: providing direct clinical care, workforce training, maternal health data enhancements and community engagement.
Arkansas was one of nine states to receive awards of about $1 million this fiscal year through Health Resources and Services Administration's State Maternal Health Innovation Program. The other states were Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Tennessee.
St. Vincent Hospital will receive an award of $999,357 through the Health Resources and Services Administration's Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies Program.
Those awards are intended to improve maternal care in rural communities by building care networks that coordinate care needs for pregnant individuals, leveraging telehealth and specialty care to better support care needs, and improving financial sustainability of these services in rural communities, according to the news release. The award recipient will work to address unmet needs, which may include underlying health risks, health disparities and other inequities.
St. Vincent Hospital serves Calhoun, Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Hot Spring, Howard, Montgomery, Ouachita, Pike, Polk and Sevier counties.