Ensuring the birth of healthy babies

By Peter Kates

For expectant moms in Buffalo who don’t have a car, the Metro system may be their only way to get to prenatal medical visits. Prenatal visits help assure that moms carry their babies to full term (39 weeks) without complications. Yet, the lack of personal transportation and funds to pay the Metro fare (about $5 per day) keep many from these important visits, contributing to the city’s high rate of premature births.

Babies born in Buffalo have a 25 percent greater chance of being premature than the New York state average. A United Way of Buffalo & Erie County (United Way) Report on Premature Birth reveals that women who don’t receive prenatal care are 5.5 times more likely to have a preterm birth.

To help pregnant women and their unborn babies gain access to this crucial care, GO Buffalo Mom was born. GO Buffalo Mom is an initiative of United Way and UBMD’s Healthy Start Healthy Future for All Coalition and One Region Forward. Partners include the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, NFTA, Catholic Health, Kaleida Health, Belmont Housing Resources, and Buffalo Prenatal-Perinatal Network, with Univera Healthcare providing additional funding. The program is currently being piloted at Sister’s OB/GYN Center and Kensington OB/GYN Clinic, with eligible participants identified by the medical practices.

“Carrying a baby to full term is the goal, since there’s so much development during the final few weeks of a pregnancy,” said Steven Dina, M.D., Univera Healthcare medical director. Ababy’s brain grows to a third of its total weight between weeks 35 and 39, while the lungs may not be fully developed until between weeks 37 and 38. The need for respiratory support for babies born prematurely is almost double that of a full-term baby, and the likelihood of a newborn being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit is more than 60 percent higher. Costs associated with a premature birth are also about $60,000 higher than with an uncomplicated birth.

“GO Buffalo Mom aims to serve more than 300 pregnant women in Buffalo each year,” said Mary K. Comtois, United Way program director of health initiatives. “If our program prevents just five premature births a year, health care spending in our community would be reduced by $300,000. That’s GO Buffalo Mom’s annual budget,” says Comtois.

Research shows nearly 30 percent of Buffalo women do not access prenatal care in their first trimester. Interviews and focus groups with 100 women identified transportation issues as a major factor for this lack of care. GO Buffalo Mom makes it possible for moms who meet savings goals to receive Metro passes for medical appointments and other needs. The program connects expectant moms with trained navigators who help determine the best route to doctor’s offices, how to best cover the cost of travel, and incorporate other stops into the trip, including to the pharmacy or grocery store.

Gap funding from Univera Healthcare made it possible forGO Buffalo Mom to offer a savings incentive match of a Metro pass to these moms. Having passes for a few months allows them to save money to help with future transportation or other baby-related expenses.