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Atrium Medical Center’s Maternal Child Health Center Reduces Number of Premature Births

November is Prematurity Awareness Month

Middletown, Ohio, November 18, 2010—The birth of a baby should be a joyous occasion, but each year one in eight American families struggle with the emotional and financial devastation associated with a premature birth.

More than half a million babies annually are born prematurely in the United States. Prematurity is the leading killer of America’s newborns; and those who survive, often face serious complications like cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, blindness, hearing loss and many other life-long disabilities. Unfortunately, the rate of premature births has risen 30 percent since 1981.

In an effort to reverse this trend in our community, Atrium’s Maternal Child Health Center (MCHC), in collaboration with the March of Dimes’ initiative to reduce the number of preterm births, has developed a Preterm Labor Detection/Intervention Program.

With the assistance of the Atrium Medical Center Foundation in securing $70,000 in grants, MCHC set a goal of reducing the rate of premature births at Atrium from 10 percent to 8 percent.

“In order to improve risk detection and pre-term delivery prevention, we established enhanced treatment protocols and intensive screening techniques for moms at high risk of recurrent pre-term delivery,” says Heather Hilkowitz, MD, co-chair of the effort. “A Tuesday morning high-risk clinic was implemented to provide our moms with longer, more intense care visits. And every high-risk mom received one-on-one educational time with an RN with lots of time for questions and answers, plus special educational materials to help them recognize the warning signs of premature labor,” she adds.

“The results for the first nine months of the program have far exceeded our expectations,” says Donna Parson, RN/C, manager for MCHC. The rate of preterm deliveries at Atrium has decreased from 10 percent to 3 percent. From January through September 2009, 49 premature babies were born. For the same period this year, only 31 premature births occurred. “That means 18 babies were spared the devastating disabilities often seen in premature births,” she adds. 

In these tough economic times, this success translates into real dollars saved. According to the March of Dimes, a premature baby’s medical costs are 10 times more than a healthy baby’s during the first year of life ($32,325 vs. $3,325).  As a result of this initiative, Atrium has been able to achieve a $900,000 estimated savings in community medical costs.

“Of course, you can’t put a price on the improved health of a baby or the personal, life-altering effects on a family who has experienced a premature birth,” says Parson. “Our ultimate goal is to give all our babies the best possible start in life, and this program is going a very long way toward achieving that goal,” she adds.