UW awards funding to improve maternal, child health throughout Wisconsin

August 24, 2023

The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has awarded four grants to help health systems and community partners in the state improve the health outcomes of mothers and their infants during the prenatal and postpartum periods.

The school was awarded funds to launch this grant program from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, a law passed in March 2021 to help lessen the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. An open request for proposals was announced by the school in April 2023. Four nonprofit health organizations in Wisconsin ultimately received funding.

Gunderson Lutheran Medical Foundation in La Crosse, and Meta House, Milwaukee Health Department and Froedtert Hospital, all in Milwaukee, each received up to $1.15 million for their proposals to improve maternal and child health in Wisconsin. To qualify for funding, each proposal required collaboration with at least one community partner.

These four funded proposals were selected as the most meritorious of all submitted, through a rigorous multi-stage review process involving a governance committee of diverse statewide experts and supported by the associate dean for social health sciences and programs office at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Programs funded by the grants will reach people in every one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

The funds are designated to reduce inequities in health outcomes for mothers and their infants, a population that was impacted severely by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Amy Kind, associate dean for social health sciences and programs, UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“This was an unprecedented opportunity for the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to bring together health systems and community organizations in new ways to create solutions that address the long-standing challenge of poor maternal and infant health in our state,” she said.

Wisconsin has one of the worst infant mortality rates for Black infants in the nation and Black maternal deaths and pregnancy complications have been increasing. American Indian, Asian, Latinx, multiracial, socioeconomically disadvantaged rural and other underserved communities also face disproportionate infant and maternal mortality rates.

The grants aim to strengthen relationships between health systems, community clinics, federally qualified health centers and community partners.

Gunderson will establish a group prenatal care program for patients with substance use disorders, mood disorders and to support pregnant teens. The proposed work also includes investment in a mobile unit and increasing the health delivery connection to rural communities.

Meta House will create a comprehensive continuum of family-centered treatment services for substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions, which includes residential and outpatient treatment as well as supportive housing for women in early recovery.

Part of the Milwaukee Health Department, the Birth Outcomes Made Better Doulas Program, or BOMB Doulas Program, will work to enhance care coordination for pregnant and birthing individuals. This will include implementing and diversifying the perinatal workforce in hospital and maternal care delivery models by building policies and practices to solidify the training, development, employment, and systematic and equal access to community aligned doula support.

Froedtert will support health equity for birthing people and their infants through a focused collaboration with Penfield Children’s Center, a leader in the developmental needs of infants and children. The proposed work builds upon each organization’s strengths and includes access to a maternal mobile clinic. This flexible delivery setting will allow pregnant people to access group prenatal care as well as obstetrical providers and other vital prenatal support needs.

Partnerships among health systems and the community are critical because these relationships lead to better care and health outcomes for mothers and their infants, Kind said.

“These projects are so exciting because they have real potential to enact lasting change while addressing important health disparities in Wisconsin,” she said. “At the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, we are so proud to play a part in uniting health systems in the state with trusted community partners as an innovative way to help improve the health of pregnant individuals and infants.”