The Florida Department of Health Polk County and the League of Women Voters of Polk County have teamed up to start a “Moms with Monitors” program, designed to help pregnant and postpartum women who are battling high blood pressure.
Dr. Joy Jackson, director of Polk’s health department, said that through the program, women receiving prenatal care at the agency’s Lakeland facility will receive blood pressure monitors if they have elevated blood pressure.
The Department of Health serves pregnant women who are uninsured or underinsured. Dr. Jackson estimates he sees about 1,200 prenatal patients over the course of a year.
“Pregnant women and postpartum women whose blood pressure is higher than it should be based on the judgment of health care professionals can be educated about blood pressure problems, can be taught how to take (their) blood pressure with instruction to record their readings twice a day, (and educated on) some warning signs about when to call the office and report the readings at future meetings,” Jackson said.
About 150 cuffs were purchased, he said. Nine have been distributed so far.
Paula Mims, president of the Polk County Healthcare Action Team’s League of Women Voters, said the program is funded by league members and corporate sponsor T. Mims Corp, a real estate company whose president is Mims’ husband , Tom.
“One of the goals of the Polk County Healthcare Action Team is to positively impact Polk County’s premature birth rate, maternal mortality, and infant mortality rates,” Mims said.
In Polk County, black babies are twice as likely to die as white babies in their first year of life, according to 2020 health department data. It’s one of the issues this program seeks to address.
“Poorly controlled high blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to preterm delivery of the baby, low birth weight, placental abruption, so clearly it can impact the health of the mother but it can (also) impact the health of the newborn , so that’s the link to infant mortality,” Jackson said. She stressed that pregnant women should also refrain from drinking, smoking and using illegal drugs.
Jackson added that high blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to postpartum preeclampsia and reeclampsia after delivery, both of which can be fatal if left untreated.
The Department of Health in Polk County also has a Health Equity Task Force. Public Health Planner Taylor Freeman, who is a member, said the task force is focused on reducing the Black infant mortality rate.
“When we looked at our infant mortality rate, it was also brought to our attention that maternal mortality in the state of Florida as a whole has increased and in Polk County, we are one of those counties that has a pretty significant,” Taylor Freeman said, adding that data on the racial breakdown of the maternal mortality rate is hard to come by, but she hopes the data collection process will improve in the coming years.
“We realize there are disparities at Polk for women of color,” Jackson said.
Paula Mims said she got the idea for the program from a similar firm in Palm Beach County.
“We hope to duplicate the program at Polk statewide. We believe that counties across the state will see what a highly impactful and financially efficient program is and will want to see the same results in their area. Controlling blood pressure during pregnancy is one small way to make a big impact on pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum complications. There are certainly a myriad of complications during pregnancy, so there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Mims said.
The health department’s task force is working with the ‘Melanin Families Matter’ organization to also find ways to address the problem.
“Some of the feedback we have received from Melanin Families Matter is that there is often some difficulty for our Black women to be heard regarding their pain complaints, or some of the issues they have questions about during pregnancy and pregnancy. ‘entering prenatal care and coordinating with that care,’ Freeman said.
Freeman said he hopes that with blood pressure cuffs and regular reporting of blood pressure readings to their obstetricians, the relationship between provider and patients will improve.
“It’s … a major stepping stone to help build that provider relationship between the prenatal provider and the mom and build that rapport and allow that conversation to happen naturally,” Freeman explained, adding that she encourages pregnant women who address this issue by visiting the CDC “Listen to Her” campaign.
Through the program so far, three black women have received handcuffs, five Latino women and one Caucasian woman, according to Freeman. Jackson looks forward to analyzing the program’s results in a year or two, once the babies are born and approaching their first birthday.
The agency currently has enough handcuffs to last a year; Jackson hopes they will receive more funding in the future.