Nation’s first-of-its-kind center aims to improve the health of moms and babies.

For Dr. KuoJen Tsao, the journey started with a single question: How do you improve the outcomes for newborns and their mothers, not just in the hospital, but before and after pregnancy, as well?

That query started a process that spanned several years, a handful of organizations, and eventually resulted in the creation of the first-of-its-kind center dedicated exclusively to improving safety for pregnant women and their babies.

This week, representatives from Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and March of Dimes came together to announce the Perinatal Safety Center, an innovative concept designed to serve as a blueprint for industry-leading patient safety initiatives.  The center will focus on  creating the foundation for developing best practices at hospitals that can be applied across the nation. Dr. Tsao, co-director of The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and professor of pediatric surgery at McGovern Medical School, is the principal investigator on the grant-funded project that will last for three years.

“Our ultimate goal is to really improve the culture of patient safety,” Dr. Tsao told TMC News.  “We think we are a safe organization. We think we do everything safely. But can we measure it so we identify the hot spots and how to make it better?”

The announcement comes at a time when the nation’s sobering infant and maternal mortality rates continue to capture headlines. A major national story last week highlighted a disturbing trend. In recent years, the U.S. has seen an increase in the rate of women dying during the maternal period (which begins at the start of pregnancy and extends to one year after delivery) while other developed nations have noted a decrease.

Nobody understands those statistics better than Ebony Riggs Hunter, 32, who was recently hospitalized for high blood pressure following the delivery of her twins. After nearly dying during her first pregnancy in Mississippi in 2011, Hunter received close attention and care from Dr. Diana Racusin, high-risk pregnancy specialist at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School, throughout her most recent pregnancy, allowing her to  deliver her twins safely at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

“I know firsthand that pregnancy can be the closest place a woman comes to death,” Hunter told the Houston Chronicle. “It was nice this time to have physicians monitoring me every step of the way, checking my heart, my blood pressure, my urine. I feel blessed to make it through this pregnancy healthy.”

However, keeping moms and babies safe goes beyond the clinic setting or the delivery room. This is why the grant has been designed to encompass the spectrum of maternal care, from pregnancy through labor and delivery and postnatal care, all the way to the transition to life at home with a new baby.

“The center aims to extend the mother’s transition to home,” Dr. Sean Blackwell, high-risk pregnancy specialist at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and chair of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at McGovern Medical School, told the Houston Chronicle.

The center’s four key focus areas, include:

  • Improving the use of a type of medication called antenatal corticosteroids shown to reduce newborn death for pregnant women who are expected to delivery early
  • Increasing immunizations for flu and whooping cough in expectant moms, allowing mothers to develop antibodies that protect the baby against these deadly diseases before birth
  • Improving the transition of mother and baby  from hospital to home, including plans to develop an app that will help parents take care of their babies after they leave the hospital
  • Continuing the progress toward eliminating the number of medically unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks gestation

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School have long been at the forefront of making patient safety a priority, which is why this new initiative was the perfect fit for two partners who are dedicated to a common goal of protecting the health of mothers and babies.

Read more about the initiative and the plans to create a model for other healthcare institutions to follow.

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Tashika Varma