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Maternity Health Professionals Creating Network Across MT

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Maternal health specialists in Montana are connecting twice a month to support each other as part of Project ECHO. (AUFORT JÚrome/Adobe Stock)
Maternal health specialists in Montana are connecting twice a month to support each other as part of Project ECHO. (AUFORT JÚrome/Adobe Stock)
November 9, 2020

HELENA, Mont. -- Maternity health specialists are getting together to overcome the daunting size of Big Sky Country and its impact on their profession.

The Montana Obstetrics and Maternal Support or MOMS program at the Billings Clinic is connecting providers in urban and rural areas to tackle a troubling trend: the state has the sixth-highest maternal mortality rate in the country.

Tersh McCracken, medical director the MOMS program and a practicing OB-GYN said Montana's remoteness is a hazard for some expecting mothers.

"I have patients who are pregnant who drive from more than two hours away to get their obstetrical care," McCracken explained. "So our biggest challenge is distance."

Fifty-two of Montana's 56 counties have at least one medically-underserved area, and the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world where maternal mortality is rising.

MOMS is funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration and is finishing its first year of a five-year program.

MOMS also is facilitating Project ECHO, a bimonthly teleconference session connecting doctors, nurses and health care administrators across the state.

Started in June, the hour-long meetings include lectures and case reviews.

Stephanie Fitch, MOMS grant coordinator at the Billings Clinic, said 25 to 35 specialists regularly attend the meetings.

She added many maternal deaths are preventable and distance is doctors' first concern.

"Lack of access to mental health and substance abuse treatment were the next highest issues that were identified by rural providers," Fitch observed.

MOMS also partners with the Rural Institute, and the Center for Children Families and Workforce Development at the University of Montana.

Annie Glover, research director at the University of Montana, evaluates the MOMS grant and said in urban areas, doctors might have colleagues down the hall they can speak to about a case.

"But in a place like Montana, there might be one or two providers and then not another colleague for 100 or 200 miles," Glover described. "And so through Project ECHO, these providers are getting together and creating that community so they have that support and that co-management of these complex patients."

McCracken added Project ECHO is eliminating the isolation some maternal health professionals feel.

"We're a big state but we're a small community and there's no reason that we shouldn't all work together," McCracken concluded.

Disclosure: Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities contributes to our fund for reporting on Disabilities, Health Issues, Rural/Farming, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT