Avera Research Institute receives $5.4 million federal grant to support maternal and infant health

June 2024

A five-year, $5.4 million federal grant awarded to the Avera Research Institute will help provide more services to pregnant South Dakota mothers and support them after childbirth.

The grant, announced in May, will create Avera Bridging Inequities Regionally Through Healthy Start, or Avera BIRTHS. The grant was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Healthy Start Initiative: Eliminating Health Disparities in Perinatal Health.

The grant is one of several the research institute has received in recent years to address maternal and child health, including Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes funding of $47 million over seven years.

"We work hard to ensure every dollar is used to improve the health of the people we serve," Amy Elliott, the chief clinical research officer at Avera Research Institute in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to move forward with the Avera BIRTHS project, which will work in unison with other grants received by Avera Research Institute.”

The infant infant mortality rate rate in South Dakota is higher than the national average, with 6.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2021 statewide compared to 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births nationwide, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. Overall, the rates of American Indian infant deaths have increased over the past 10 years, with a rate 3.5 times higher than the white infant mortality rate in 2022.

In South Dakota, more than 56% of more than 56% of counties are considered maternity care deserts are considered maternity care deserts, compared to more than 36% nationally, according to the state.

The grant will build on Avera’s Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies program that is focused on increased access to obstetrics services and improved delivery outcomes. Avera BIRTHS will provide money to develop, launch and operate an education, social support, and maternity care program from pregnancy up to 18 months postpartum.

Community-based doulas, a social worker, a dietician, an advanced practice provider and a registered nurse educator will staff Avera BIRTHS in addition to project leaders.

They will also partner with other groups, including Feeding South Dakota, which will help families identified as food insecure; The Teddy Bear Den, which provides incentives to mothers for maintaining healthy lifestyles; and the Avera Community Health Resource Center, which will provide group-based, culturally specific education classes staffed by community health workers.

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