NEW ORLEANS, AUGUST 24, 2009 – Four years after the hurricanes of 2005, four March of Dimes Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers® serve as the primary health care providers for thousands of pregnant women, teenagers and children living along the Gulf Coast.
Launched as an emergency response to the devastation inflicted upon New Orleans and the region’s hospitals and health care facilities, these mobile prenatal health centers have taken the place of regular health care provider for these areas. Although all of the hospitals in Jefferson Parish have reopened, four out of nine still remain closed in Orleans Parish and none have reopened in St. Bernard Parish.
The four March of Dimes Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers® have provided more than 7,800 patient visits since they began operating in 2007. The centers travel throughout New Orleans, its surrounding suburbs of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward, Lake Charles, Louisiana and Biloxi, Mississippi, and make regular stops at community centers, churches, schools and even Kmarts in Biloxi, MS.
“These four March of Dimes mobile health centers are now part of the fabric of these communities,” said Dr. Scott Berns, senior vice president of chapter programs for the March of Dimes. “They provide essential primary preventive care for mothers and babies, giving them quality preconception, prenatal and well-baby medical care.”
Some of the services provided by the mobile health centers include ultrasounds, prenatal visits, pregnancy testing, preconception counseling, CenteringPregnancy (a group prenatal care program), referrals to remaining hospitals in the area for high risk women who require specialized care, and postpartum checkups.
Providing access to high-quality medical care is vital to improving birth outcomes in the region, Dr. Berns says. For example, in 2004, before the hurricanes, Louisiana’s preterm birth rate was 15.6 percent, nearly 25 percent above the national average. In 2006, the state’s preterm birth rate increased to 16.4 percent. Mississippi’s preterm birth rate increased to 18.8 percent in 2006, from 17.9 percent in 2004.
Added to the lack of health care providers in the region, the Gulf Coast has also seen an influx of Spanish-speaking families, who’ve come to help rebuild the area and who have limited access to health care.
“Many of our patients are Spanish-speaking, and because we are bi-lingual we can offer these women access to quality health care,” says Rosa Bustamante-Forest, RN, MPH, MN, program director for the Mom & Baby Mobile Health Center® in New Orleans. “We’re seeing repeat patients from last year who are pregnant again, which speaks volumes to the quality of care we offer.”
The Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers were funded through the March of Dimes Hurricane Assistance Fund, including a $3 million gift from the People of Qatar. The centers are staffed by the Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans, Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center and Coastal Family Health Center.
Inside, the Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers® look like a regular healthcare provider’s office, with private exam areas, waiting areas and nurses’ station. They are equipped with fetal monitors, ultrasounds and other equipment, and a backup generator. The handicap accessible centers have bilingual staff, including an obstetrician, nurse practitioner or midwife, a nurse, lab technician and an outreach worker. The vehicles have a fixed schedule at consistent locations so services will be dependable and expected.
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org.