Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge and the United Health Foundation today announced a three-year, $1.2 million grant to launch an innovative program at Woman’s Hospital that will help address the needs of pregnant women with opioid addiction and their affected newborns.
The new program, called “GRACE” (Guiding Recovery and Creating Empowerment), will support expectant mothers by providing comprehensive care-coordination services specific to their needs during and after pregnancy. GRACE works with physicians, social service agencies, hospitals, mental health agencies, the legal system and other community partners to identify expectant mothers affected by opioid misuse, and connects them to the appropriate resources to aid in their care and recovery.
GRACE aims to reduce stigma and bias surrounding addiction and medication-assisted treatment, provide education and training to hospital staff, and decrease the number of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions and length of NICU stay.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee joined Woman’s Hospital President and CEO Teri Fontenot, and UnitedHealthcare Community & State CEO and United Health Foundation board member Heather Cianfrocco to announce the grant at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge.
“Instead of the steady stream of discouraging data that we are sadly accustomed to hearing regarding opioids, today it is my honor and pleasure to help shine a spotlight on possible solutions to opioid addiction,” said Gov. Edwards. “I am hopeful that smart and patient-centered treatment options like GRACE will help turn the tide on this enormous problem that continues to plague our state and country. I am proud to stand with Woman’s Hospital and the United Health Foundation as this program is introduced, which I hope can serve as a model for the rest of the country.”
Once admitted into the GRACE program, patients will participate in a comprehensive assessment to evaluate their medical, mental health and psychosocial history. Once completed, participants work with a care provider to develop a care plan specific to their needs, followed by education on medication-assisted treatment, what to expect in labor, breastfeeding, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), safe sleep, safe medication storage and more. As participants move through the program, they will receive regular phone call follow-ups and may receive community resource support for housing, food, transportation, education, job training and more.
“The GRACE program helps mothers affected by opioid addiction by providing them with a roadmap to recovery and having a healthy baby,” said Fontenot. “Together, we are building a network to effectively manage care for these patients, helping them receive health education and providing support.”
Louisiana has experienced a 46.5 percent increase in drug deaths – from 12.9 percent to 18.9 percent per 100,000 people – since 2007, according to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings. And the rate of pregnant women addicted to opioids at the time of delivery has quadrupled over the past 15 years in 28 states across the country, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Maternal addiction can lead to Low Birth Weight infants though either premature labor or through Intrauterine Growth Restriction. Opioid exposure in the womb can have far more serious health effects for babies due to NAS, which can cause a high rate of neurological injury, and death due to the neurological impact of opioid withdrawal.
“It is imperative that we help expectant mothers struggling with opioid addiction get the support they need during and after pregnancy for their health and that of their baby,” said Cianfrocco. “We know this type of service is much needed across the state, and we are eager to support Woman’s Hospital’s ongoing efforts to help build a healthier Louisiana – one person at a time.”
In conjunction with the event, UnitedHealthcare and Woman’s Hospital employee volunteers assembled 200 infant starter gift bags, which will be given to new moms entering the program. The bags include clothes and supplies for newborns, and a resource guide for mothers.
For more information about the GRACE program, visit womans.org/GRACE.