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Maternity program helping to birth healthier babies

From groceries to transportation, program addresses barriers to healthy pregnancy using nurse navigators funded by Blue Cross

A new maternity program at Essentia Health funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is helping ensure expecting parents in northern Minnesota receive the comprehensive care needed to birth healthier babies.

The origins of the program extend back to 2020, when leaders from both organizations, along with the Essentia Health Foundation, first met to discuss what would become the collaboration that today serves local expecting parents who face a variety of barriers to care and health.

To date, the program has served more than 250 people in the Arrowhead region.

“To ensure access to equitable, high-quality care, we must also consider factors outside of the doctor’s office that impact patients in very real ways,” said Rachel Edmunds, manager of family building programs at Blue Cross. “We are proud of this partnership, which is built upon shared goals, to help expecting parents receive the pre- and post-natal care they deserve by overcoming disparities for stronger, healthier newborns.”

Blue Cross provided Essentia with a $280,000 contribution to establish, implement, and advance the program with goals to:

. Reduce NICU admissions

. Reduce births at less than 37 weeks

. Reduce low birthweights

. Reduce c-sections due to pregnancy complications

. Increase percentage of mothers breastfeeding at discharge

Blue Cross and Essentia aim to realize these outcomes through preventive care measures and by addressing barriers to healthy behaviors led by two registered nurse (RN) care coordinators – both of whom act as dedicated points of contact for expecting parents in the program. The nurses serve as advocates by creating focused care plans, providing education, recommending community resources and ensuring expecting parents are able to see their doctor at times that are cognizant of their jobs, commutes and existing childcare schedules.

The program also assists expecting parents experiencing financial hardships that impact health by providing items such as healthy groceries, fuel for travel to appointments, car seats, breast pumps, blood pressure cuffs and maternity clothes.

The program has made nearly 550 referrals to community partners and distributed more than $2,300 in gas and grocery cards.

“We have been privileged to build relationships with incredible and resilient patients while addressing their unique challenges,” said Kristy Gunderson, RN care coordinator at Essentia. “Women experience various stressors that can make navigating their healthcare difficult, especially throughout pregnancy. Tailored and compassionate care coordination enables us to meet expecting parents where they are, supporting and empowering them to make meaningful changes for their overall wellbeing.”