Bemidji-area health care providers partner with grant money to improve rural maternity health

Health providers Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, Cass Lake IHS, Red Lake IHS, Beltrami County Health and Human Services, PrimeWest Health, and others received a $3.6 million grant for work on “Families First: Rural Maternity Health Collaborative.”

According to a release from Sanford, the funding came from the Health and Human Services Administration and will use partnerships between health care systems and public health programs in Beltrami, Cass, Itasca, and Hubbard Counties.

“Many of our patients still face multiple barriers in accessing prenatal care including no reliable transportation, childcare and financial concerns,” shared Dr. Johnna Nynas, OB/GYN for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota and physician lead for the project.

“The collaborative relationship between our healthcare organizations, physicians and advanced practice providers is central to ensuring we can provide evidence-based and risk-appropriate care to high-risk pregnancies locally within our region.”

Sanford Bemidji’s OB statistics for 2020 show three percent of all deliveries did not receive any prenatal care, while the state averages around one percent.

Around 12 percent of expecting mothers sought care from the fifth month of pregnancy or later, compared to the state average of eight percent.

Eight percent of Bemidji deliveries were impacted by diabetes, 11 percent by hypertension, and 11 percent of expectant mothers had at least one STD.

The four-year grant will work to enhance the services each partner provides for comprehensive care, such as screening for medical conditions that complicate pregnancy, prompt recognition and stabilization of obstetric emergencies, intensive case management, and postpartum support.

The work plan also includes interventions that mitigate high-risk conditions that contribute to maternal morbidity and mortality.

Regional challenges affecting access to obstetric care for Indigenous women include geographic isolation, inadequate transportation, chronic illness, poverty, substance use, challenges with health literacy and a long history of colonization and systemic racism.

“Previously, each of our health care systems were working with limited resources to provide comprehensive care, however our new model employs a systematic approach to each focus area that brings high-quality medical care, social support, and education to women wherever they are,” shared Nynas.


Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University.


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