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Montana earns award by reducing preterm birth

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June 20, 2017

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391


Montana earns March of Dimes Virginia Apgar Prematurity Campaign Leadership Award by reducing preterm birth

Montana is one of only seven states to receive award this year


State officials have received special recognition from the March of Dimes for reducing the state’s preterm birth rate.

March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health.

The State of Montana received the March of Dimes Virginia Apgar Prematurity Campaign Leadership Award, for lowering its preterm birth rate from 10.1% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2015 – a reduction of 16.8%, surpassing the minimum requirement of 8 percent.

Montana was one of only seven states to receive this recognition this year. Also recognized were Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

The Virginia Apgar Award is given to recognize states that accepted and met a challenge from the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to lower their preterm birth rates 8 percent between the baseline year of 2010 and 2015.  The award is named in honor of Virginia Apgar, MD, who developed the five-point APGAR score to evaluate an infant’s health at birth, and who served as vice president for medical affairs of March of Dimes.

According to March of Dimes, during the past five years 161 fewer babies were born preterm in Montana, preventing heartache for their families and potentially saving more than $10.6 million in health care. “The Apgar Award reflects the dedication of state health officials, health care organizations and maternity care providers. We congratulate Montana on the work they have done to help babies,” says Kelly Ernst, MPH, March of Dimes Vice President of Maternal Child Health.

“We are thrilled to receive this award as it represents the hard work of many organizations across the state of Montana to improve the health of moms and babies,” said Sheila Hogan, Director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The preterm birth rate in Montana was 8.4 percent in 2015, lower than the national average preterm birth rate of 9.6 percent, according to final data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Hogan said DPHHS implemented a new policy in July 2014 regarding elective deliveries. Elective deliveries are non-medically necessary cesarean sections and non-medically necessary inductions prior to 39 weeks gestation. “Elective deliveries increase the risk to both mother and infant, and there is no evidence that they confer any health benefits in the absence of medical indications,” she said.

Effective July 1, 2014, all hospitals that perform deliveries were required to have a hard stop policy on non-medically necessary early inductions and cesarean sections. DPHHS worked with facilities to assist them on creating and implementing this policy. Effective October 1, 2014, DPHHS implemented a reduction to reimbursement for non-medically necessary elective deliveries. “The implementation of this policy has reduced the number of elective deliveries within Medicaid and has helped lower Montana’s overall prematurity rate,” Hogan noted.

Each year, about 12,000 babies are born in Montana and on average nearly 45% are paid for by Medicaid.

Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) is the leading cause of death of babies in the U.S.  Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. Babies born even a few weeks early have higher rates of illness and hospitalization compared to full-term newborns. Beyond the devastating implications for the family, there are implications for educational and social services systems that provide resources to support children who survive but continue to need services.  Preterm birth accounts for more than $26 billion annually in avoidable medical and societal costs, according to the National Academy of Medicine.

“This progress demonstrates the dramatic impact that is possible when infant health becomes a statewide priority,” said Denise Higgins, March of Dimes Montana Maternal Child Health Committee Chair and Service Line Director for Maternal Fetal Medicine at Community Medical Center in Missoula. “Montana has made pre-term birth a strategic focus by working to integrate system level changes to enhance and support evidence based interventions such as reductions in early elective deliveries and group prenatal care. It is this leadership within public health and the partnerships with clinical leaders, Medicaid and community based organizations that has driven success through a shared strategic goal.”

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. For more than 75 years, moms and babies have benefited from March of Dimes research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs. For the latest resources and health information, visit our websites marchofdimes.org and nacersano.org. To participate in our annual signature fundraising event, visit marchforbabies.org. If you have been affected by prematurity or birth defects, visit our shareyourstory.org community to find comfort and support. For detailed national, state and local perinatal statistics, visit persistats.org. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. A wealth of educational video resources is available on our YouTube channel.