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Health and Family Services Cabinet
Prematurity Prevention Partnership Launched

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, March 27, 2007  
Contact Information:  Jennifer A. Montgomery, (502) 418-6819; Jennifer Robinson, (212) 220-4444/cell phone (917) 841-4105; Michele Kling, (914) 997-4613, cell phone (914) 843-9487; or Beth Crace, (502) 564-6786  

Kentucky Department for Public Health, Local Hospitals Join March of Dimes, Johnson and Johnson Pediatric Institute to Reduce Preterm Births by 15 Percent

To reduce the rate of preventable preterm births in targeted areas of Kentucky, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) joined the March of Dimes and Johnson and Johnson Pediatric Institute today to formally launch Healthy Babies Are Worth the WaitSM, a three-year partnership. The announcement was made at a news conference prior to the opening of the Kentucky Public Health Association’s annual meeting here.

Six Kentucky hospitals representing diverse geographic regions are participating in Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait and are divided into “intervention” and “comparison” sites.

The three intervention sites – King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland; Trover Clinic/ Regional Medical Center in Hopkins County; and University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington – will employ an innovative model combining interventions that are diverse, linked elements of clinical care, public health, and public education. These include consumer awareness and education; access to screenings and referrals for treatable or preventable conditions; consistent clinical care during the prenatal period and appropriate care between pregnancies; and professional education.   The primary goal of Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait is a 15 percent reduction in the rate of singleton (one baby) preterm births in these targeted areas.

Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset, Norton Hospital (Downtown) in Louisville, and Paducah’s Western Baptist Hospital will serve as comparison sites, providing traditional high quality perinatal services and care.

Preterm birth (defined as birth before 37 completed weeks’ gestation) is the leading cause of infant death in the U.S. and puts babies at great risk for lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy, blindness, and physical and neurological impairment.

Just a few extra days in the womb can make a difference, the organizations said today at the news conference.  Even babies considered “late preterm,” those born between 34 and 36 weeks, are more likely than full-term infants to experience acute problems after birth, be re-hospitalized, or die within the first year of life.

Nationally, rates of preterm birth have increased more than 30 percent since 1981 and today more than 520,000 babies are born too soon each year; 400,000 of these (or about 80 percent) are late preterm births.  In Kentucky, more than 14 percent of births in 2005 were delivered preterm – one of the highest rates in the nation (the U.S.  rate is 12.7 percent).

“Preventing preterm birth not only saves babies’ lives and improves the future for them and their families, it can lessen the long-term toll such births take on our communities,” said Ruth Ann Shepherd, M.D., FAAP, director, Adult & Child Health Improvement, Kentucky Department for Public Health. “We hope that Kentucky’s experience with Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait will one day help other states protect their most vulnerable populations so that together we can permanently reverse this trend.”

Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait takes a “bundled” approach to reducing the known risk factors for preterm birth during prenatal care and between pregnancies. 

Education at multiple community levels, via myriad channels, will be critical to the partnership’s ongoing efforts. To augment the relationships between expectant mothers and their health care providers, the local health departments serving intervention sites will be integral in reaching community members with information about the known risk factors for, and ways to prevent, preterm birth. Further, a tool kit will be available at for use by community leaders ranging from social or civic organizations to houses of worship.  Finally, ongoing professional education will be available for health care providers at intervention sites.

“Our experience has shown that resolving a public health issue as serious as preterm birth requires commitments from a community’s individuals, influential groups and the public and private sectors,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “We hope that Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait inspires others to do all they can to make sure the babies in their families and communities are born full term if there are no medical problems for either mother or baby.”

On-site planning and baseline data collection occurred at all three intervention sites during January and February of this year; implementation began in March and will continue through June 2009. Follow up and evaluation will continue through December 2009; interim reports on results will be made available. Successful outcomes from this model in reducing the rate of preventable singleton preterm births could be replicated in other regions of the country.

“Parents are often unaware about the serious consequences of preterm birth because medical technology is saving babies who once would not have survived. However, babies born even just a few weeks early who physically appear healthy are at risk,” said Bonnie J. Petrauskas, a director of the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute. “Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait will bring together parents, providers and communities in an environment that fosters  understanding of preterm birth and what can be done to help babies  get a healthy start in life."



Last Updated 3/27/2007