MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee hospital found ways to improve health outcomes for pregnant patients through a food and education program.
"I feel like I ran a marathon right now," said Andrea Mcneail as she was days away from her due date with baby number five and getting her last iron transfusion. "Overall, energy wise I feel good. Before I started the iron treatments I would feel like I didn’t have any energy at all."
Like many women, Andrea faced anemia during pregnancy. If left untreated, studies show it could lead to adverse outcomes for the mother and baby. One national survey found 9% of women in the United States face anemia while pregnant.
In 2021, Ascension St. Joseph Hospital in Milwaukee started a program to provide pregnant patients with bags of food geared toward their health condition whether it was high blood pressure or diabetes. Patient navigator Nubia Rojas said that the majority of the bags are tailored to patients with anemia.
The bags also come with education on their health condition and follow-ups with staff. They are delivered to the hospital pharmacy where patients can pick them up with their prescription medications.
"We want to make sure that we’re providing foods that are rich in iron to help support natural iron levels, but also foods that are rich in fiber to help with some of the side effects that come with taking an iron supplement," explained Nikki Lorino, site lead for Ascension Wisconsin's Maternal Social Health Systems Initiative.
In the process of launching the food boxes, healthcare teams found patients had trouble making it to appointments for iron IV transfusions and prioritized working across departments to connect them.
"It's absolutely crucial to tackle this anemia right from the get-go because we have usually seven (to) eight months with our patients to say, how can we get you in the best possible shape for delivery for caring for a baby beyond delivery? Any changes that we can make early on are going to impact any other potential complications during pregnancy but have us in a good place for beyond," said OB-GYN Dr. Stephen McAvoy.
"When we take the time to listen to our patients, we find out that we have an idea of what they need, but when it comes down to it, nobody can tell us better what they need than the patients," Lorino added.
Lorino said since the changes, they have seen more patients make it to their appointments.
Whether it was the food bags or the transfusions, Mcneail said keeping her anemia under control is key.
"It’s a top priority because you not only want to protect yourself, but your baby," Mcneail said.