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Iowa Health Experts Awarded $10 Million Grant To Study Maternal Health

Natalie Krebs/IPR
Hansen Family Hospital in Iowa Falls was one of eight rural hospitals to stop delivering babies in 2018.

Iowa health experts have been awarded a $10 million grant to study the state’s increasing maternal mortality rate.

Iowa is one of nine states that has been awarded a State Maternal Health Innovation Program grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Under the five-year grant, the University of Iowa will work with the state's Department of Public Health to find ways to address Iowa’s increasing maternal mortality rate.

According to the University of Iowa, maternal mortality nearly doubled in the state from 2015 to 2018 compared to the previous three years. 

Stephen Hunter, the vice chair of obstetrics at the University of Iowa Hospital, said there are many contributing factors.

"The perfect storm elements consist of lack of workforce, hospital closures, sicker patients all converging at the same time," said Hunter. "It's going to be a difficult problem to deal with."

Hunter said the first year, researchers will collect and analyze data to figure out the biggest issues and then for the remaining four years, they will begin to implement plans to address these issues.

Possible solutions include creating new training programs for providers who want to practice in rural areas and the expansion of telehealth services, he said.

“It's not going to be an easy thing to fix," Hunter said. "The grant will certainly help get us started. But it's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be quick.”

Iowa has one of the lowest rates of OB/GYNs in the country, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Since 2000, nearly three dozen of the state's rural hospitals have stopped delivering babies, including eight last year.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter