The Birth Outcomes Initiative has made real progress.

The collaboration of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, State Hospital Association, the March of Dimes, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and more than 100 other partners has some bold objectives.

One of the primary goals of the initiative was addressing the state’s pre-term birth rate, which was the fourth-highest in the country in 2011. Recent studies show the rate has been cut in half.

That’s because of voluntary agreements from the state’s birthing hospitals and a subsequent end to funding for the early elective procedure from Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medicaid. (Granted, if you take away the funding, you pretty much take away the option.)

Getting babies to term means fewer days in the hospital for both mother and baby, and reduces the chance for future problems for both.

Of course, there’s so much more to do, as MUSC’s Dr. Scott Sullivan points out. Sullivan, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is part of the initiative’s Vision team, a baker’s dozen group of folks in the medical, insurance and health care fields.

Room to grow

Now, things haven’t been all rosy on the infant health front, as health reporter Lauren Sausser has pointed out. Infant mortality increased slightly in 2012 in the state. Among minority populations, the rate is about 2.3 times higher.

Lowering the pre-term birth rate should help affect the infant mortality rate, Sullivan said, but it might take at least a couple of years for those results to show up.

Meanwhile, there are a host of other initiatives in place. Increasing support for expectant moms, particularly in rural areas, is a thread running through several of the group’s plans. In some cases that means looking for creative solutions to the lack of OB/GYN’s in certain parts of the state.

Or it might mean expansion of MUSC’s Strong Start program, which pairs women who are at risk for early births or infant mortality with case managers. The case managers might help expectant moms get prescriptions filled, or they might help them find food assistance.

Anything that could contribute to a negative outcome for the mom-to-be and her baby, they try to step in and prevent or fix.

Future plans

Dr. Sullivan said that South Carolina still has some work to do. For instance, the Palmetto State hasn’t been tracking maternal deaths, which are deaths either during pregnancy or within a year afterward from pregnancy-related issues.

“It’s really been a bit of an embarrassment,” he admits, to be the only state in the South that doesn’t track that data. But Sullivan gives credit to DHEC Director Catherine Templeton for recognizing that. Doctors from around the state will soon gather to put a data tracking plan in place.

“We believe it’s (the rate) too high, but we don’t even have the numbers,” Sullivan said.

That will surely be one of the many discussion topics when the Initiative hosts its second annual symposium Thursday. Sullivan says it will be both a celebration of the progress that’s been made and a planning session. “We can’t do everything at once,” he acknowledges, but they will “get together, dream big and plan big.”

And that’s good news for South Carolina’s future.