Governor Steve Bullock announced a $10 million, 5-year federal grant to launch a program to address disparities in maternal health and improve health outcomes for pregnant and postpartum women living in rural Montana. Kristen Rodgers is the Bureau Chief at the Family and Community Health Bureau. She says there is a significant need for the Montana Obstetric and Maternal Support program.

“Montana has the 6th highest maternal mortality ratio in the nation,” Rodgers said. “That is very alarming. Maternal mortality is the death of a woman during pregnancy at delivery or soon after delivery. All of this grant, the other grants we have received and the work that we are doing, is to provide high quality obstetrics across Montana.”

According to Rodgers, women in Montana’s rural and Native American communities face the highest risks. The program will use telehealth to connect OB/GYN specialists with providers treating high-risk pregnant and postpartum women living in remote areas of the state.

“We know there is a shortage of specialty care in Montana,” Rodgers said. “This is a way to address this very specific need. Of course, women have babies all across Montana, not just in the urban areas. This allows them to have a successful pregnancy in the more rural areas of Montana.”

Urban-based OB/GYN experts will be linked to rural providers to share their expertise via mentoring, guidance, feedback and didactic education. Rodgers says this program is much more cost efficient as well.

“By not having to get a helicopter or plane to move someone from the Hi-Line down to Billings Clinic or Great Falls, it obviously saves a lot of money,” Rodgers said. “It is a lot easier to pay a physician in Billings Clinic to talk live for 30 minutes than tens of thousands of dollars in transportation.”

The program is expected to launch beginning in early 2020. Later in 2020, OB/GYN physicians from Billings Clinic and other urban centers will offer live remote consultation to rural providers.