HELENA — The State of Montana has received a $10 million, five-year federal grant to improve health outcomes for pregnant and post postpartum women.
The Montana Obstetric and Maternal Support (MOMS) program is expected to launch beginning in early 2020.
Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Montana has the sixth highest maternal mortality ratio in the nation, with rural and Native American communities at the highest risks.
The new program will utilize existing telehealth efforts and bring more obstetric training opportunities to rural Montana communities.
“This is an excellent opportunity to elevate healthcare services for pregnant and postpartum women who have little or no access to high levels of obstetrics care,” Governor Steve Bullock said. “The launch of this program gets us one step closer to ensuring that every woman in Montana has equal opportunity to access affordable and quality care.”
The grant will use the Billings Clinic’s Project ECHO, a telehealth service, to connect OB-GYN experts to rural providers.
“Project ECHO will provide didactic training,” said Sheila Hogan, Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) director. “An expert will lead the discussion with a team of professionals.”
A provider consultation access line will also be available for care provides that will have dedicated time for rural clinics to receive consultation on cases.
Simulation in Motion-MT trucks will be used to bring training to the rural providers. The trucks are outfitted with pregnant manikins that can simulate a number of complications that can arise from pregnancy.
“The final part is telemedicine,” said Hogan. “If a woman is, say, hemorrhaging or there's a diabetes issue, the provider will connect with a professional at Billings Clinic who will be able to actually see what’s happening in that room.”
Telemedicine uses HIPAA compliant video-conferencing tools to enable doctors to consult patients in real time.
Hogan recognizes that there are challenges inherent in the state that need to be addressed, such as the lack of broadband in some rural communities.
She notes, however, many of the pieces are already in place for a lot of providers that can utilize the MOMS program.
“The beauty of it is there’s an infrastructure in place in many communities. So, we’re utilizing existing systems when we can, and our goal is that people have a successful pregnancy and a successful outcome whether you’re in Billings or in Bighorn County,” said Hogan.
According to DPHHS, more than half of Montana’s counties currently do not have an obstetric physician or nurse practitioner providing maternal healthcare.
The MOMS program will also help launch or expand mental health and substance use counseling and establish medication-assisted treatment for pregnant and parenting women battling addiction.