A Service of UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sanders launches maternal health initiative

An Arkansas House Committee Discussed Maternal Health Monday.
Bee Harris
An Arkansas House Committee Discussed Maternal Health Monday.

In a bid to tackle Arkansas’s maternal health crisis, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has unveiled a strategic committee composed of leaders from various sectors. The initiative aims to address the alarming statistics surrounding maternal health in the state, with a particular focus on improving prenatal care and pregnancy outcomes.

Sanders on Monday emphasized the personal significance of this issue, featuring her own experiences as a mother and the first mom to serve as Arkansas’ governor. With approximately 35,000 pregnancies occurring in Arkansas each year, Sanders stressed the importance of early access to healthcare, noting that far too many women don’t seek medical attention until later stages of pregnancy.

While Arkansas already has resources available for expecting mothers—including 70 health units offering maternal and prenatal care at no out-of-pocket cost—there remains a significant gap in awareness and education. To address this, the strategic committee plans to implement a multi-faceted line of attack concentrating on education, access, coordination, and overall improvements to the state’s maternal health services.

Key initiatives outlined by the committee include advertising and awareness campaigns, grants and funding opportunities, and the creation of a pilot program pointed at counties with low rates of prenatal care. This pilot program aims to connect women with available healthcare resources and provide support throughout the pregnancy journey.

The committee is made up of experts from various fields, including healthcare, education, and Medicaid, all of whom are committed to finding solutions to the complex issue of maternal health. Each member brings unique perspectives and insights to the table.

Secretary Renee Mallory, representing the Department of Health, touched on the department’s interest in evaluating existing programs and finding new funding opportunities to support maternal health projects. Similarly, Cassie Cochran, Deputy Director for Public Health Programs, outlined plans for a pilot project centered on prenatal care and women’s health across five counties.

Dr. Sam Greenfield, Chair of the Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee, expressed his belief in the importance of data-driven approaches for identifying preventable causes of maternal deaths and implementing reactive interventions. Secretary Jacob Oliva underscored the role of education in supporting maternal health initiatives, particularly through empowering school nurses and bolstering early learning environments.

Arkansas Medicaid Director Janet Mann accented the fact that Medicaid pays for more than half of all births in the state of Arkansas. She says her office will be working diligently to provide increased access to the program’s myriad benefits. Secretary Kristi Putnam highlighted the Department of Human Services’ priority on prevention and early intervention programs to support expecting mothers and families.

In closing, Derek Brown, Executive Director of Arkansas Baptist Children and Family Ministries, expressed heartfelt gratitude to all participants for their commitment to addressing this critical issue. He invoked the spirit of Mr. Rogers, reminding attendees that in times of crisis, there will always be helpers, and urged continued collaboration and support for the initiative.

As the strategic committee moves forward with its plans, Sanders is hopeful that the team’s collective efforts will lead to marked improvements in maternal health outcomes across Arkansas.

Maggie Ryan is a reporter and local host of All Things Considered for Little Rock Public Radio.
Seth Hooker is a George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship recipient, interning at Little Rock Public Radio from UA Little Rock's professional writing program. He enjoys (being seen) reading literary classics and one day aspires to write one of his own. He lives in Bryant with his wife and three daughters.