illinois Digital News

Payer Funds Tech, Training To Support Rural Maternity Healthcare


By Kelsey Waddill

– Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) is funding a hospital partner’s technology and practice support resources in order to transform rural maternity healthcare.

“Long-distance travel is commonly cited as one of the biggest barriers to health care for our members,” said Karen Amezcua, senior director of provider partnerships at Blue Cross. 

“As we continuously work to ensure we are providing access to the full continuum of care across our network, it’s crucial that rural area hospitals maintain a high level of skill and confidence in obstetrics. Blue Cross anticipates that our investment in this state-of-the-art technology will improve the sustainability of high-quality care for expectant mothers by eliminating barriers that lead to worse health outcomes.”

Blue Cross’s hospital partner, Community Memorial Hospital, is located in Cloquet, Minnesota, and acts as a critical access hospital. The hospital’s more than 500 employees serve a wide variety of clinical needs, including the area of obstetrics.

The hospital’s service area is extensive. The target community that Community Memorial Hospital serves is the rural residents of Minnesota, for whom physical distance from care sites often poses a significant social determinants of health barrier.

In order to improve quality of care, the hospital will start training staff how on routine and emergency labor and delivery practices using a life-like simulator. The simulator will be available for training utilization in 2022.

“For a critical access hospital like ours, it’s important that our physicians, nurses and support staff are trained appropriately for all types of labor and delivery care – from vaginal deliveries and c-sections to emergency hysterectomies,” said Rick Breuer, chief executive officer at Community Memorial Hospital.

The simulator technology will not only improve care for Minnesota residents who use the Community Memorial Hospital. It also has the potential of impacting surrounding areas. Community Memorial Hospital has indicated that it will share this equipment with other providers in the area that serve rural demographics.

These efforts are crucial for enhancing health equity in maternal care. 

“We know there are disparities in health outcomes in rural areas and for minority populations, and we hope these training tools can aid us in efforts to eliminate those disparities as well,” Breuer added.

With its funding, Blue Cross will be able to address some of the essential elements that rural healthcare providers have identified as necessary for starting and sustaining obstetrical services. 

Minnesota rural healthcare providers reported a few key requirements for offering rural maternal healthcare. They need enough delivery providers, nurses, and nurse anesthetics, surgical backup, steady birth volume, and organizational and administrative support.

Neighboring states have also faced challenges serving rural communities and combating care disparities.

For example, in nearby Michigan, Priority Health established a value-based contract with Centering Healthcare Institute’s (CHI) CenteringPregnancy model. With this contract, the payer sought explicitly to eliminate racial care disparities for pregnant individuals. The contract incentivizes providers to use peer support in order to improve member satisfaction and quality of care.

Payers have been gravitating toward peer support as a method for improving maternal patient outcomes. In October 2021, UnitedHealthcare announced that it would offer $175,000 to a North Carolina practice in order to improve prenatal care and maternal patient outcomes. 

UnitedHealthcare’s provider partners will use peer support through CenteringPregnancy as well as extend better access to prenatal care to members of the Black community as well.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, individuals in rural and minority communities started having more extensive postpartum benefits under the American Rescue Plan Act in April 2021. The state used a section 1115 demonstration to expand postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months.

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