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A Pinellas health center is receiving a $2M federal grant to improve Black maternal health

Doctor and pregnant patient, who are Black, sit on a couch. Doctor holds stethoscope to patient's chest while she rubs her belly.
VadimGuzhva - stock.adobe.com
The grant will support Evara Health's efforts to do more home visits with high-risk pregnant patients.

The money will pay for efforts to catch pregnancy-related complications early and build trust with patients.

The federal government is giving a Pinellas County health center $2 million to improve maternal health.

Evara Health runs a dozen community health clinics around the county that treat patients regardless of their ability to pay. The federally qualified health center is the only group in Florida that is receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of a $65 million initiative to reduce maternal health disparities.

Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related issue in America than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“There are a lot of social determinants of health that impact care and the ability of [Black] patients to access care, things like limited transportation, limited health literacy, stressors related to housing and financial stressors —I think all of those things add to create gaps in services,” said Dr. Nichelle Threadgill, chief medical officer with Evara Health.

Cultural barriers also exist, Threadgill noted, including discrimination in health care and medical mistrust, that could cause some patients to avoid or delay seeking treatment and increase their risk of experiencing problems during pregnancy or after giving birth.

Evara intends to use the funding to support efforts to do more home visits with high-risk patients and provide them with remote monitoring equipment that would allow staff to keep an eye on things like patients’ blood pressure or heart rate without requiring an in-person appointment.

“To see sooner any signs, warning signs of complications that could be developing and intervene sooner,” Threadgill said. “With those early interventions, we think that that will make a huge difference in making an impact on the long-term outcomes of a pregnancy or during the post-natal period.”

Home visits also give medical staff more opportunities to engage with patients, said Threadgill.

“This will really help us to build connections with patients so that there is a level of comfort to say how they feel and when they feel something isn’t right,” she said.

 Dr. Nichelle Threadgill with Evara health and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor stand at a podium outside a community health center.
Office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor
Dr. Nichelle Threadgill announced the $2 million grant for Evara alongside U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and other health care officials earlier this month.

One mom's experience

Establishing trust with medical staff has been really important for St. Petersburg mom Paula Jernigan, who said the individualized care she received at Evara during her most recent pregnancy helped her navigate challenges more smoothly than with her first child.

Jernigan worked with a midwife whom she said also had experience as a doula, which is a professional trained to provide emotional support during pregnancy and other life events.

The bond they formed made Jernigan feel comfortable opening up about the postpartum depression she experienced after the birth of her first child, so that this time, she could prepare in case it happened again. When Jernigan experienced severe abdominal pain one day, she knew to contact her midwife, whom Jernigan said guided her over the phone through an emergency room visit.

“She walked me through everything, and it was a very scary time for me, I'm not going to lie, but to know that I had the support was everything,” said Jernigan, who gave birth to a healthy baby boy on June 12 and continues to receive postpartum care with Evara.

Officials with the health center announced the grant earlier this month alongside U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa.

Castor is pushing bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, which Congress first passed in 2018 to support states in improve health outcomes for pregnant people and new parents. The bill established Maternal Mortality Review Committees in states to conduct local analyses about the challenges their respective communities face and possible solutions, and it provides additional grant funding for special programs.

“With our [Florida’s] growing population and the maternal mortality rate, we need all the help we can get, so this bill will reauthorize those kinds of initiatives with the understanding that we simply must do more,” said Castor. “It is completely unacceptable that in the United States of America, more mothers die during pregnancy or after childbirth than in other developed nations, so it simply can’t stand.”

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.