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Using recently awarded grant money, the Calvert County Health Department will implement a program to coordinate and provide comprehensive health care and other services to pregnant women with substance abuse issues in April.

The program, called “Healthy Beginnings — Infant Morbidity and Mortality Reduction,” will target substance-abusing pregnant women and women of reproductive age of low socioeconomic backgrounds to assist them with earlier entry into and coordination of prenatal care, as well as addiction and mental health services, according to literature about the program.

The department received a three-year grant of $230,000 from the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission, which held a competition for the grant that was open to all nonprofit organizations in Maryland, said Dr. Laurence Polsky, health officer at the Calvert health department.

The program will not require the health department to create any new positions, but it will increase the hours of its part-time staff, freeing up the full-time staff to do outreach.

Recognition of a growing problem in the county prompted the department to develop the program and apply for the grant.

An increase in narcotic addiction has disproportionately affected women in rural areas, and during the past five years, the Calvert County Substance Abuse outpatient services have seen a 350 percent increase in requests for treatment for prescription drug abuse, according to the literature. The statewide average increase is 103 percent.

In addition to a widespread substance abuse problem that is affecting the entire county, there has been an increase in the number of women in an age range in which they may become pregnant who are abusing prescription drugs and heroin, Polsky said.

Women who use substances have a higher risk of complications during pregnancy, including premature birth, said Betsy Bridgett, registered nurse and Maternal Child Health Program supervisor at the department.

A baby who is born near full term will require about $50,000 worth of care, while the cost for a baby who is born at 28 weeks can reach $250,000 for a 7- to 10-day stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, according to information about the program.

Bridgett’s long-term goals for the program include seeing healthier babies born and improving the lives of their mothers by stabilizing them and relieving some of their stressors to increase their chances of recovery.

The Calvert County Fetal Infant Mortality Review revealed an uptick in the number of babies born to women addicted to opiates during the past several years, and most of the cases reviewed were women who came from households that were below the federal poverty level, Polsky said.

Some aspects of prenatal care pose significant challenges to women living in poverty.

Polsky cited transportation to get to appointments and securing care for other children once they are there as barriers women face.

In addition to alleviating these burdens, the program’s “intensive case management” will connect women with local obstetric and primary care providers, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) services, social services, dental care, health insurance enrollment, reliable contraception and community resources, including education and job training opportunities.

“Dr. Polsky is very committed to improving the lives of women and children in our county and this grant offers an exciting opportunity to do just that,” Bridgett said.

afrazier@somdnews.com