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April 2 - Mercer University School of Medicine Faculty Members Receive $5.5 Million Federal Grant to Combat Maternal and Infant Mortality in Rural Georgia

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

April 2, 2019 - Two Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) faculty members have received a $5.5 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to combat maternal and infant mortality in a seven-county region of rural Georgia.

The grant will establish a program called South Georgia Healthy Start to implement and determine the impact of a multi-level initiative that establishes new systems of physical and mental health care for pregnant women in rural areas, provides comprehensive case management and health promotion to at-risk mothers and families, engages in workforce development, and promotes systems change to improve maternal and infant health. 

At least 700 pregnant women, new mothers, infants and fathers will be served every year across Appling, Bulloch, Candler, Emanuel, Jenkins, Tattnall and Toombs counties. 

The five-year program will be led by Dr. Bryant Smalley, associate dean for research in MUSM, and Dr. Jacob Warren, Rufus Harris Endowed Chair and director of the Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center of Excellence within MUSM.

“Georgia has the worst maternal mortality rate in the nation, and is consistently one of the five worst states in the nation for infant mortality,” said Dr. Warren. “Women and infants in rural communities – especially minority women and infants – face even higher risk than the rest of the state. These funds will help us eliminate these disparities.” 

The Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities will provide case management, home visits, provider trainings, health education and parenting workshops, as well as establishing a regional network of perinatal care.

South Georgia Healthy Start will collaborate with East Georgia Healthcare Center, a network of Federally Qualified Health Centers headquartered in Emanuel County, to ensure all program participants have a medical home with appropriate clinical care coordination.

“Rural Georgians face significant barriers to healthy pregnancy outcomes, including longer distances to birthing hospitals, lack of access to obstetricians and maternal-fetal medicine specialists, and a variety of social determinants of health,” said Dr. Smalley. “South Georgia Healthy Start is a comprehensive program designed not only to lessen the impact of these barriers, but also to remove them entirely.” 

Dr. Smalley and Dr. Warren have worked extensively with communities to develop, implement and research the impact of rural health initiatives, including helping coordinate the launch of the first school-based health center in rural South Georgia. Their work has received national recognition, including each being named National Rural Health Association Researcher of the Year and both receiving the NIH Center of Excellence designation.

“Mercer University School of Medicine is deeply committed to rural health,” said Dr. Jean Sumner, dean of MUSM. “Maternal and child health is an area of significant need in rural Georgia, and it is a privilege to have the opportunity to support families in these seven rural counties.”

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