December 4, 2020

Catholic hospitals receive state recognition for care of moms, babies

Angela Bratina, third from right, administrative director of Franciscan Health Indianapolis’ Center for Women & Children, poses with nurses Christine Hunkele, left, Erin Neu, Melanie Boosey, Jennifer Naessens and Stephanie Lee in front of a banner noting the recognition they helped earn for Franciscan Health from the Indiana Hospital Association as an INspire Hospital of Distinction in the area of care for mothers and babies. (Submitted photo)

Angela Bratina, third from right, administrative director of Franciscan Health Indianapolis’ Center for Women & Children, poses with nurses Christine Hunkele, left, Erin Neu, Melanie Boosey, Jennifer Naessens and Stephanie Lee in front of a banner noting the recognition they helped earn for Franciscan Health from the Indiana Hospital Association as an INspire Hospital of Distinction in the area of care for mothers and babies. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

On Oct. 1, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb announced that Indiana’s infant mortality rate fell in 2019 to its lowest level in state history.

Four Catholic-based delivery hospitals in the archdiocese were recognized on Oct. 29 for their help in achieving this goal.

On that day, Ascension St. Vincent Dunn in Bedford, Ascension St. Vincent Women’s in Indianapolis, Franciscan Health Indianapolis and Franciscan Health Mooresville were announced among a list of facilities receiving the Indiana Hospital Association’s (IHA) new INspire Hospital of Distinction recognition for their role in care for mothers and babies.

“It is paramount to … protect the lives of mothers and their babies,” said Joan Culver, head of Franciscan Health’s Women and Children’s Service Line Collaborative.

Julie Schnieders, vice president of Ascension Indiana’s Women’s Service Line, agreed.

“Everyone in the state has their heart in the right place to help moms and babies,” she said.” It’s part of who we are.”

Reversing a dangerous trend

Indiana has historically been listed among states with the highest infant mortality rates, according to an Oct. 4 Associated Press article. It noted that from 2013 to 2017, “Indiana’s average infant mortality rate was 7.3 per 1,000 compared to the national average of 5.9 [during] the same time period.”

The article reported that 2019 marked the third year the infant mortality rate declined in Indiana, making the number “the lowest it’s been since record-keeping [in the state] began.”

Decreasing the infant mortality rate has been a state goal for several years, said Schnieders. The most recent step was the 2019 passing of the Indiana State Department of Health’s proposed Perinatal Hospital Services Act.

“It created defined levels of care for delivery hospitals,” ranking them from Level I to Level IV, with “level four hospitals offering the highest level of care and services,” Schnieders explained. Ascension St. Vincent Women’s is one of the state’s two Level IV delivery hospitals.

When the Indiana Hospital Association (IHA) announced a program called INspire Hospital of Distinction to recognize Level III and IV delivery hospitals’ commitment to infant and maternal health, Franciscan Health and Ascension St. Vincent applied.

“There were five key practice areas evaluated—infant safe sleep, breastfeeding, tobacco prevention and cessation, perinatal substance use and obstetric hemorrhage,” Culver explained.

Hospitals had to pass in four of the five areas to receive INspire Hospital of Distinction recognition. The eligible Franciscan Health and Ascension

St. Vincent hospitals in the archdiocese each passed in all five areas.

The recognition proves that the hospitals “provide what we say we’ll provide,” said Schnieders. “It makes all of us get our house in order—are we really doing what we say we’re doing.”

‘Take away all the barriers’

To prove a hospital’s success in the five key areas, “We had to look back at our programs to see what we offered,” said Culver. “Sometimes it’s education, sometimes it’s documentation, sometimes it’s prevention.”

One example she cited is Franciscan Health’s “Eat, Sleep, Console” program to help babies born addicted to opioids or other drugs from the mother’s use while pregnant.

The program “is an evidence-based method of care that helps new parents care for their infants who may be suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome [NAS],” according to information on the health system’s website.

Rather than send the baby to the neonatal intensive care unit for treatment with withdrawal medication, “We try to keep mom and baby together,” Culver explained. “We screen for withdrawal symptoms, but continue to make efforts to keep mom and baby together so mom can learn coping skills and learn her baby’s cues, and feed and cuddle her baby as much as possible.”

The program has led to a marked decrease in intensive care stays, fewer days in the hospital for affected newborns and significantly fewer infants requiring medication assistance for NAS, according to the website.

Schnieders noted services offered by Ascension St. Vincent delivery hospitals that contributed toward their INspire recognition.

“One I really like is, at the Indianapolis [Women’s] hospital, we have a community health worker who goes several days a week to the [local] Women’s Care Center so she can get moms in for care early,” she said.

The health worker offers mothers presumptive eligibility—short-term coverage of health care services for those with limited incomes who are not currently receiving Medicaid.

“She has helped women in 42 different zip codes get the help they need that is closest to them and most convenient for them, even if it’s not an Ascension

St. Vincent hospital,” said Schnieders. “The word is out that if there’s food insecurity, if a mom needs a ride, she’ll help. We try to take away all the barriers we can to help moms.”

‘Clearly making a difference’

The list of INspire Hospital of Distinction recipients includes many secular facilities. What sets Franciscan Health and Ascension St. Vincent apart is their distinct Catholic missions.

“A basic construct of our mission is that we respect all life,” said Culver. “And we want all moms and babies to get the care they need, and to do that in a financially responsible way. We are there to provide care whether they can pay for it or not.”

She is proud of the staff who helped earn the recognition.

“We do this work because we’re called,” Culver said. “But this recognition helps our staff understand their work is meaningful. They’re being noticed, and moms and babies are getting better care because of what they are doing.”

Ascension St. Vincent hospitals also offer care with a Catholic Christian mindset.

“If you think of how [St. Vincent hospitals’ founding order] the Daughters of Charity started with treating the poor and vulnerable, it starts right there,” said Schnieders. “We don’t let anything be a barrier in the care of mothers or babies.”

She said she was “thrilled” when she learned the hospitals in her area of responsibility received the INspire Hospital of Distinction recognition.

“What I try to do is get everyone to roll the same way,” she explained. “If we all do the same thing, we’ll improve the quality and outcome of care. So, for our staff and facilities to receive that recognition was really awesome.”

This was the first year for the INspire program. If it is offered again next year, both Culver and Scnhieders said their hospitals will apply.

“It’s a really good idea,” said Schnieders. “If you take care of mom and keep her healthy, then the rest of the family stays healthy.”

Culver agreed.

“When you look at the impact we’ve all made, it’s clear the infant mortality rate has improved,” she said. “We’re doing it as a city and a state to make a difference. And we clearly are making a difference.” †

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