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UPMC pushes to connect pregnant patients with doctors in maternal care deserts

UPMC pushes to connect pregnant patients with doctors in maternal care deserts
UPMC pushes to connect pregnant patients with doctors in maternal care deserts 02:22

MCKEES ROCKS, Pa. (KDKA) -- For women, having a baby is considered one of the best days of their lives. But for some, particularly women of color, it can be more of a day full of fear and loneliness. So, there's a big push right now to better connect doctors and patients.

"It's important for us to save lives, babies' lives," said Bonita Pannell with UPMC Magee-Women's Outreach Team. "So, we're not going in the community saying, 'This is what you need.' We're listening to the community and what they're telling us they need."

This week at the Birthing While Black event in McKees Rocks, pregnant women and their families were given tips, guidance and, in some cases, life-saving advice.

"We've had lactation programs, we've had CPR training, which has been super helpful that I'm able to go back and share with him," said Danielle Oriola.

Doctors were there to help answer questions.

"I think it's really important for us to provide services both before pregnancy, during pregnancy and after," said Dr. Tracey Conti, UPMC's chair of Family Medicine.

The location for this event, McKees Rocks, does not go unnoticed.

"McKees Rocks is a maternal care desert," said Pannell. There are no OB-GYN and no pharmacies. In fact, Pannell says if pregnant women want prenatal care, they have to take two buses to get to one.

And the numbers show the struggles.

According to the Allegheny County Infant Mortality report from 2015 to 2019, infant deaths were the highest in McKees Rocks and Stowe Township.

"Stowe is 24% and McKees Rocks is 16%," Pannell said, adding "That's very high." 

And that's why collaboration and connection are vital. 

"We have to be visible," said Bev Moore, the deputy executive director of the Allegheny County Housing Authority. "Sometimes we even have to knock on doors to say, 'We're here for you. We care about you. We want you to get what it is that you need.'"

Those at the event say the building of trust between doctor, patient and community will take time. 

"We're going to keep trying, keep pushing to make it happen," Pannell said, adding, "It could take years." 

But they won't give up because the death of just one baby is one too many.

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