Tennessee health centers bridging gap in women’s health care services

Published 9:21 am Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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The Tennessee Primary Care Association and its affiliated community health centers are working to increase accessibility to essential women’s health-care services in urban and rural underserved communities across Tennessee, addressing the existing challenges.

Community health centers serve more than 423,000 patients across Tennessee, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Suzanne Hurley, co-CEO of Connectus Health, which delivered 657 babies last year, said early prenatal care is crucial. She added data show the earlier a mom enters care, the better the outcomes for mother and baby.

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“Community health plays such an important role in that space. Because we accept patients at any point in the pregnancy, we’ve had patients come in at 40 or 41 weeks pregnant,” she explained. “We might see them for one visit, or they may literally present to the hospital in labor and we support their delivery.”

In Cocke and Jefferson counties, Rural Medical Services is filling a void by providing access to women’s health-care services. By the end of the year, they are aiming to deliver 320 babies. RMS also offers comprehensive health services in Spanish and English, which include prenatal care and delivery at the Birthing Center at the Tennova Newport Medical Center.

Connectus providers have a Cesarean birth or “C-section” rate of just 16%, which is below the national average.

Caroline Portis-Jenkins, co-CEO of Connectus Health, said its midwifery program has helped keep the C-section rate low as it assists women at any stage of pregnancy, including delivery, and the staff listens to the mother’s concerns.

“Using our other clinical colleagues, whether it’s a hospitalist or an OB integrating them into the care when needed, the midwife can make those determinations. So we think that’s a huge part of the model and why our section rate is so low. Also caring for the whole patient, a holistic approach to the patient throughout their pregnancy,” she said.

Portis-Jenkins added its social determinants of health program connects patients to such resources as insurance, diapers, food and transportation, as well as behavioral health support and maternal health educators. They also partner with a local maternal-fetal medicine group for early risk assessment and specialized care.