A woman visiting Ascension Sacred Heart’s Women's Care Center/University of Florida Residency Clinic in Pensacola, FL, for her 33-week prenatal appointment confided in the center’s maternal health navigator that she lost her job and was on the verge of being evicted from her apartment.
While the patient was still in the clinic that same day, the maternal health navigator, Kate Peabody, reached out to community partners, securing rental and utility assistance that helped this new mother with needed support - and the ability to attend her remaining prenatal visits. When job insecurity or lack of transportation are stark realities for the most vulnerable women in Escambia County, prioritizing prenatal care over basic needs isn’t as simple as it appears.
For the past few years, Escambia County’s rate of infant mortality during the child’s first year of life has been higher than state and national averages. Ascension Sacred Heart is working to help address disparities in birth outcomes by identifying and overcoming barriers that prevent women from accessing prenatal care and post-pregnancy visits at the hospital's Women's Care Center.
“Gaining our patients' trust starts by listening to understand. We listen. We talk to them to find out what the barriers are,” Peabody said. “Our mission is having healthy moms and full-term babies. The key is getting them to their appointments."
When a patient misses an appointment, Peabody follows up to ensure the next one isn’t missed. If a pregnant mom has trouble finding transportation or child care, Peabody arranges transportation or connects her with community services for assistance.
The maternal health program helps patients get to their appointments using a rideshare transportation service. Over the past three years, Ascension Sacred Heart has provided more than 1,500 rides, decreasing the number of missed obstetric appointments by approximately 20% - meaning more expecting mothers and their babies are getting more of the care they need.
Angela Williams, practice manager at the OB-GYN center, noticed patients weren't completing necessary blood tests, so staff started drawing blood in the office. “This has been a game-changer, enabling us to identify and manage pregnancy-related health issues in a timely manner,” she said.
Food is often the resource people forgo when they have competing financial priorities. In Escambia County and Santa Rosa County, up to 25% of children live in households that are food-insecure.
Ascension Sacred Heart’s Maternal Health Social Systems Initiative Team provides food bags with iron-rich foods and nutritional education to pregnant women that are vital during pregnancy.
“It's not just about getting enough food but getting the right food for mom and baby to thrive,” Williams said. “Not eating enough iron-rich foods can increase the need for blood transfusions after delivery and lead to low birth weight or premature birth.”
Since starting the program in 2020, Williams said the center has reduced the number of babies born prematurely by 33% compared to when the program started in 2019.
The woman who confided in Peabody about losing her job is now the mother of a healthy 2-year-old and continues to receive care at the Women’s Care Center.
"We are making a difference," Williams said. "It’s what brings us to work every day."
Women’s health care is personal — so is choosing the care that’s right for you. OB-GYNs and care teams at Ascension Sacred Heart meet you where you are and care for you as your care needs change over time.