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Federal grants help care of mothers with newborns


The Department of Health and Human Services has announced 27 recipients of new Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns awards.

The grants, funded by the Affordable Care Act, can be used by states, caregivers and others to find new ways to prevent significant, long-term health problems in high-risk pregnant women and newborns who are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the funds will help “communities across the country improve prenatal care for expectant mothers so they can have a healthy delivery and a healthy baby.”

“The Strong Start initiative will help find ways to reduce the rate of preterm births, which is a public health problem with significant long-term consequences for families and children,” Sebelius added in a news release.

More than half a million infants are born prematurely in America each year, according to HHS, with associated costs of about $26 billion. Children born preterm require costly medical attention, often require early intervention services and special education and can develop conditions that may affect their health and productivity as adults.

“As a nurse and a mother, I know there is nothing more important for a child than getting off to a healthy start,” said Marilyn Tavenner, RN, BSN, MHA, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “We are excited to be partnering with healthcare providers and community organizations across the country to improve prenatal care to women covered by Medicaid and CHIP.”

Strong Start awardees are located in 32 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and will serve more than 80,000 women enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP over the three intervention years.

The initiative includes a public-private partnership and awareness campaign to reduce the rate of early elective deliveries before 39 weeks for all populations. It also is designed to test three evidence-based maternity care service approaches that enhance care delivery and address the medical, behavioral and psychosocial factors that may be present during pregnancy and contribute to preterm-related poor birth outcomes, according to a fact sheet from CMS.

Each grant recipient will test one of the three interventions:

• Group prenatal care: Incorporates peer-to-peer interaction in a facilitated setting for health assessment, education and psychosocial support.

• Comprehensive prenatal care at birth centers: Facilitated by teams of health professionals, including peer counselors, with services including collaborative practice, intensive case management, counseling and psychosocial support.

• Enhanced prenatal care at maternity care homes: Includes psychosocial support, education and health promotion in addition to traditional prenatal care. Services provided will expand access to care, improve care coordination and provide a broader array of health services.

Strong Start awardees will be serving women in the areas with the highest preterm birth rates in the country, including areas that are among the top 10 prematurity and infant mortality counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Strong Start initiative is an effort by HHS to reduce preterm births and improve outcomes for newborns and pregnant women. It is a joint project of CMS, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, with support from various programs across the multiple agencies of HHS.

The CMS Innovation Center administers the awards through cooperative agreements over four years. For more information and to see a list of grant recipients, visit


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