Pregnant moms are the focus of nearly $1 million in grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation

Photo by Dahlak Tarekegn.

Magee-Womens Research Institute recently received three grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation that will be applied to initiatives related to infant care, technology and fundraising.

Those funds, totaling almost $1 million, have the potential to affect change far beyond the mere dollar value of the grants, especially for disadvantaged moms.

Dr. Hyagriv Simhan.

“One of the struggles we have is that there are thousands and thousands of women having babies, and they all have a range of risk,” says Dr. Hyagriv Simhan, executive vice chair of obstetrical services at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. “The thing that we can always be better at is bringing the right care to the right women at the right time in the right manner.”

The grants will be funneled into three initiatives:

1. Promoting and measuring doula care effectiveness

Doulas provide emotional and physical support to mothers before, during and after childbirth. Often, doulas are employed to assist socially disadvantaged women who are at high risk for adverse birth outcomes.

“They really help women by advocating for them, by maximizing trust,” Dr. Simhan says. “And that really makes my job, in a way, easier. It makes it more effective. … In particular, for women at risk, having a doula helps women understand care plans better, helps them stay engaged in care, and that’s better for us too as care providers.”

Some of the grant money will be used to increase awareness of how doulas can help pregnant women, and gauge the effectiveness of their use, says Michael Annichine, CEO of Magee-Womens Research Institute.

“We want to be able to measure the results,” Annichine says. “To be able to go back in the health plan at some point and say in these specific categories where we felt like doula support would be advantageous to the families, babies and mothers, we were able to improve outcomes by X, Y and Z.”

Michael Annichine

The use of doulas cuts costs because they are less expensive than using in-hospital resources.  Costs also decrease because using doulas “lessens the occurrence of some of those high-cost events that land you back in the ER,” Annichine says, “or in a situation where that baby is potentially at risk of needing further care.”

2. Improving databases that identify high-risk pregnancies

The second grant will be used to improve databases that identify pregnancies where there are heightened risks of infant mortality or morbidity through evidence-based platforms. Better analytics can help predict outcomes.

“Once you have those analytics, you can really prove to the parents, to the providers, the right way to do something,” Annichine says. “Everything we’ve done since 1995 has been focused on creating those databases to allow us to achieve that analytical foundation for the techniques we’re trying to improve upon.”

Improving databases will help manage the patient population, Dr. Simhan says. This will enable Magee to identify women at risk and assign them doulas, as well as find new ways of predicting risk and communicating that risk to patients.

3. Reimagining critical fundraising efforts

The third grant will be applied to fundraising efforts, which have become more critical since the Covid pandemic wreaked havoc on not only health systems, but the finances of some donors and foundations.

“The fundraising world is changing,” Annichine says. “We have to better understand how to adapt with those changes so that we’re not spending money on old models. We want to be very efficient with our spend, and we’re using that piece of (the grants) to identify opportunities that will be less expensive and drive greater results.”