Each year, women in Northern Michigan give birth to about 5,000 babies, and of those pregnancies, about a third are considered high risk. The region, however, has not had a robust network of services for high-risk pregnancy. High-risk-moms-to-be have had to travel regularly to places like Grand Rapids and Saginaw for checkups and care, or try to squeeze into the packed schedule of a specialist from downstate who makes once-a-week rounds in the North.

Munson Medical Center’s High Risk Perinatal Program has set out to improve regional care for high-risk obstetrics patients. Consider the situation from the patient and her family’s perspective, encourages Mary Schubert, executive director of women and children services at Munson. “You learn you are pregnant and are all excited and then the doctor says you have to see a perinatal specialist—a specialist in maternal and fetal medicine—and then you have to wait,” she says. The situation adds anxiety and stress at a time that’s already emotionally charged. The fix? “We didn’t want to just bring one physician here, we wanted to bring a whole program,” Schubert says. “We wanted to create wrap-around care, a whole safety net for families with the goal of keeping more moms here.”

The program will be based in Traverse City, and many patients will receive care there. But members of the team will also travel throughout the North, seeing patients on a regular basis at clinics close to the patients’ homes and thereby reducing the risk of travel—traveling adds risk to what’s already a high-risk pregnancy. With care nearby, more pregnant women are likely to seek care, too, rather than seeing distant care as out of their reach, for reasons like transportation and finances.

The spectrum of care will include technology-based services, such as ultrasound checkups and genetics counseling as well as addiction treatment services (in some Northern Michigan counties, 40 percent of pregnant moms smoke cigarettes), and social work services. “When it’s time to deliver, a social worker will figure out where the family will stay, and if there are other children, how they will be cared for,” Schubert says.

Working hand in hand with the high-risk pregnancy program, the neonatal intensive care program is also increasing its capabilities. “We used to transfer anybody born at less than 28 weeks to Devos, in Grand Rapids,” Schubert says. Now the unit regularly keeps babies at 26 and 27 weeks.

“It’s all about putting the family at the center, giving the family the best possible care,” Schubert says. “And keeping moms close to home.”

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Photo(s) by Michael Poehlman