Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc, and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Kristin Tully, PhD, in collaboration with partners at North Carolina State University and The Ohio State University, have received a $2.5 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at the United States Department of Health and Human Services to improve health care services for new families after childbirth and the transition home.

The goal of the four-year project, ‘Re-engineering Postnatal Unit Care and the Transition Home to Reduce Perinatal Morbidity and Mortality,’ is to identify and define priority unmet needs on postnatal units that contribute to poor maternal and infant outcomes and to create innovative recommendations for more effective mother-infant ‘dyadic’ management to facilitate improved safety and wellness.

Dr. Alison Stuebe and Dr. Kristin Tully

Childbirth is the most common indication for hospitalization the United States, with more than 3.8 million women and their infants discharged from postnatal care each year. The project will enable a stronger start for mothers and their infants, as well as offering a more integrated, value-based model for care that can be shared with other hospitals for widespread implementation.

Attention to postpartum maternal health is critical because more than half of pregnancy-related deaths occur after the day of birth, Stuebe says.

“Our goal is to ensure that all families are seen and heard in days following birth,” says Stuebe, professor of maternal-fetal medicine and Distinguished Professor of Infant and Young Child Feeding at the Gillings School. “I am thrilled to collaborate with this incredible team to ensure that moms and babies are safely supported in their transition home from maternity care.”

The postpartum unit of North Carolina Women’s Hospital at UNC-Chapel Hill will serve as a transdisciplinary ‘Patient-Safety Learning Laboratory,’ for principal investigators Stuebe and Tully, along with principal investigator Emily Patterson, PhD, at Ohio State’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in the College of Medicine, and co-investigators Carolina Gill, MS, and Kelly Umstead, MS, faculty at NC State’s College of Design. Additional collaborators include faculty and staff across UNC Health Care and the UNC Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Social Work, Information and Library Science, as well as expert consultants in maternity health equity, advocacy and clinical care.

The project’s primary goal is to reduce emergency department visits and hospital readmission up to 90 days postpartum for mothers and infants as a benchmark for improving patient safety and care value in three intersecting domains: Mother/Baby Recovery, Precision Clinical Care, and Care Transition from Hospital to Home.

“This opportunity for real change is humbling and one we will fully leverage to transform maternity care,” says Tully, research associate in the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute at the Gillings School. “By integrating a variety of stakeholder perspectives and thoughtfully developing and testing new tools, we will better equip maternity care professionals to serve and contribute to families being and feeling safe and respected.”

This is a project of UNC’s Center for Maternal and Infant Health within the School of Medicine. The center focuses on helping women with high-risk pregnancies and families with medically fragile infants to navigate a complex health care system, working with them to make sure they are receiving the best care and support available, and houses the 4th Trimester Project, of which Stuebe and Tully are part.