Ascension St. Joseph’s Hospital has opened a new four-bed emergency department for pregnant women in an attempt to address maternal health disparities.
The new unit is known as the OB Emergency Department, or OBED. Dr. Matthew Lee, medical director, Women and Families, Ascension Wisconsin, said the unit aims to help women experiencing difficulties with their pregnancy.
OB/GYN staffers will be on-site to assist women suffering from abnormal bleeding, decreased fetal movement, higher blood pressure and other complications.
Lee said pregnancy-related deaths have increased nationally over the last several years, and Milwaukee is no exception. Black women are more likely than any other ethnic group to have complications with their pregnancy.
Complications with pregnancy can lead to infant mortality. According to data from the City of Milwaukee, the infant mortality rate for Black women was roughly 15 in 1,000 from 2015 to 2017. This was three times higher than the infant mortality rate for white women. The report said that two of the leading causes for infant mortality in the city are premature birth and unsafe sleep.
Maternal mortality has also steadily increased over the last several years, likely because of rising rates in obesity and other chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new department will increase access for obstetrics care — especially for at-risk communities, Lee said. He said not acting in the face of current rates was “unacceptable.”
Kevin Kluesner, chief administrative officer at Ascension St. Joseph, said the hospital has roughly 4,000 obstetrics triage visits per year, meaning patients are seeking critical care during their pregnancy. Creating the OBED is meant to elevate the level of care for high-risk moms, Kluesner said.
The emergency department will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Kluesner said the OBED will have specialists around the clock from the Obstetrics Hospitalist Group, a national organization that helps staff obstetrics units.
Four full-time obstetricians will be present, in addition to current staff. Lee said their only responsibility will be providing immediate care.
Lee said the OBED is part of a broader initiative.
“We have to invest where we are,” Lee said. “We’re continuing to grow our volume and increase access for patients.”