United Health Foundation donates $1.2 million to new program helping expectant mothers

United Health Foundation will make a 3-year $1.2 million grant to help Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge launch an innovative program that will help address the needs of pregnant women with opioid addiction and their affected newborns.

The new program, called “GRACE” (Guiding Recovery and Creating Empowerment), will support expectant mothers by providing comprehensive care-coordination services specific to their needs during and after pregnancy. GRACE works with physicians, social service agencies, hospitals, mental health agencies, the legal system and other community partners to identify expectant mothers affected by opioid misuse, and connects them to the appropriate resources to aid in their care and recovery.

In Louisiana, the numbers of babies born dependent on drugs after being exposed to the substances in the womb has risen at an alarming rate in recent years. The Advocate reported in May that the rate of Louisiana babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) quadrupled between 2005 and 2015, the most recent year on state records, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. In 2015, at least 384 newborns in the state were diagnosed with NAS, according to hospital discharge data from the Louisiana Department of Health. At least 1,681 Louisiana newborns last year had valid allegations of drug or alcohol exposure, according to the state's Department of Children and Family Services.

For many people addicted to opioids, clinicians advise "medication assisted treatment" that tempers cravings for the drugs by replacing them with others. While many clinicians agree that it is better for women to be in a supervised program rather than relying on illegal drugs, the medication can still be addictive. Many doctors also note, however, that a “cold turkey” drug withdrawal during pregnancy can result in stillbirths.

The GRACE program helps address these issues for pregnant women suffering from opioid addiction problems. GRACE connects them to OB-GYN care, provides medication-assisted treatment options and assesses other problems that they may struggle with, like mental health disorders or a lack of access to housing and other resources. Once the women give birth, case managers can continue to follow up with each woman and her newborn afterward. The program currently has 6 expectant mothers involved.

Please contact your UnitedHealthcare representative to learn more about GRACE.