Akron: Cleveland Clinic Akron General begins its first Centering Pregnancy™ group today. This national program has been shown to dramatically improve maternal outcomes, such as reducing low birth weight and prematurity.
In the program, a group of about 10 pregnant women with roughly the same due date meet together as a “circle” with a trained facilitator for 8 to 10 sessions to learn about many aspects of pregnancy, labor and delivery, and infant care.
“The women who participate in Centering Pregnancy learn so much, and you can really tell at delivery who has been through the program, as they are more relaxed and know what questions to ask,” said Holly Carder, an experienced Centering Pregnancy facilitator who recently joined Akron General to coordinate its program. “They also form a real sisterhood of support with the others in their circle. They often watch each other’s children and spend time together afterward.”
Typically, Centering Pregnancy participants are seen by a healthcare provider for their regular prenatal checkup, including blood pressure and weight checks, at the sessions, then spend up to two hours in their circle. This results in women spending about 10 times more time with a provider than with traditional prenatal care. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the circles are being held via virtual group calls for the foreseeable future.
Carder said virtual sessions are still highly effective educationally and can even increase the program’s already high attendance numbers because issues such as transportation or child care are not barriers for the women. “They can participate while relaxing at home,” she said.
As long as the program occurs in a virtual format, blood pressure cuffs and hand-held fetal Doppler devices will be provided to the participants so they can monitor their vital signs on their own but they will also come in to the clinic for prenatal visits.
The circles will be facilitated by Carder and three Akron General OB/GYNs ‒ Natalie Bowersox, M.D.; Jennifer Savitski, M.D.; and Maura O’Shea, M.D.
Centering Pregnancy is one of the core programs that Akron General is utilizing to increase access to healthcare for those affected by health disparities in Summit County. Other programs being supported by Akron General’s Neighbor to Neighbor initiative include a COVID-19 testing site in downtown Akron, community health programs such as the Minority Men’s Health Fair, education of the next generation of family physicians and expanded wrap-around support for patients, such as follow-up calls from social workers and nurses in Akron General’s Center for Family Medicine. Also, Akron General offers nutrition programming for Centering Pregnancy through a grant from the Women’s Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation.
Akron General’s Centering Pregnancy program is being launched thanks in part to a $1 million grant through Summit County after a legal settlement from Johnson & Johnson to reduce the devastation of the opioid epidemic. Akron General partners with the AxessPointe Women’s Health Center on the program.
Women who seek prenatal care at AxessPointe, a federally qualified health center that served more than 21,000 patients in 2019 in Summit and Portage counties, are offered information about Centering Pregnancy at their first visit. They are also given an opportunity to connect with a community health worker who can help them access other resources to help reduce barriers to having a healthy baby, such as housing or food assistance.
“AxessPointe is pleased to partner with Akron General to provide the Centering Pregnancy program as an additional resource for our patients as we strive to improve pregnancy outcomes and reduce infant mortality,” said E. Demond Scott, M.D., MPH, chief medical officer at AxessPointe Community Health Centers.