PCC Community Wellness Center, a nonprofit community health organization located in Oak Park, was recently selected as one of five health centers nationwide to participate in the perinatal and Patient Safety Pilot Collaborative.

The collaborative is part of the United States Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC).

Perinatal care encompasses an array of women’s health care needs throughout pregnancy until three months after birth, and represents a large portion of the services provided by PCC.

In 2004, PCC provided care for 22,653 patients, and staff helped to deliver 1,083 babies in Chicago’s West Side communities. All the communities served by PCC (Parent Child Center) are medically underserved, especially in regards maternal and child care services. The West Side represents the primary service area of the PCC, with four sites (including one in Austin) and a fifth soon to be established.

The collaborative requires members of the PCC and other perinatal health care providers to congregate in Washington every two months for a year to discuss new policies that will hopefully improve the infant mortality statistics in these underprivileged areas.

“In November 2004, seven members of the PCC team began bi-monthly meetings in Washington D.C. with perinatal health care representatives from Detroit, South Carolina and the Mississippi delta, which show the nation’s poorest perinatal outcomes, especially for African-Americans,” said Dr. Natalie McCammon, physician at the Austin area PCC site, located at 335 N. Mason. “We have talks with national leaders in the fields of pediatrics to discuss ways to decrease the infant mortality rate in these communities.”

The stats themselves are quite alarming. The Austin Community, for example, which is about 90 percent African-American, has an infant mortality rate twice that of the city of Chicago at large. Currently, the national average of babies who fall victim to infant mortality is 7 out of 1,000. Chicago is above the national average at 11.5 per 1,000. However, the Austin community has a rate of 23.8 deaths per 1,000 births, more than three times the national average.

“We need to decrease these rates, and that’s what this collaborative seeks to do,” said McCammon. “We look to identify the sources of these outcomes and turn them around. For example, if it’s determined that inaccessibility to health care providers contributes to these rates, we may want to incorporate [transportation] pass distribution as part of the perinatal care process so they have a means to travel to their physician.”

Traditionally the implementation of care collaboratives at community health centers have proven to be highly effective. Government-sponsored collaboratives addressing diabetes and asthma have led to bettering health care outcomes for these diseases. This has allowed providers the opportunity to offer patients more effective care which increases their odds of survival.

Due to the success of the care collaborative model, HRSA, many of its bureaus, and the Institute of Health Care Improvement, as well as other agencies, have joined together to apply the lessons learned from chronic care model to perinatal care.

“Essentially, the goal of the collaborative is to ‘redesign’ the perinatal care system,” said PCC spokesperson Lynn Hopkins. “We want to focus on patient safety during prenatal care, labor and delivery for mother and baby in the newborn/postpartum period, and implement evidence-based interventions and consensus guidelines that address the problems with prenatal health care.”

The PCC is expecting these measures to motivate community centers to follow through with plans they may have been considering for some time, such as smoking cessation programs for pregnant women.

PCC also expects the collaborative to allow them to reach more patients, particularly those who do not receive prenatal care at all, in hopes of effecting the outcomes for the West Side community as a whole.