Present and Future

UTHSC Earns a $1.7 Million Grant from BlueCross BlueShield

Memphis, Tenn. (May 3, 2010) - The University of Tennessee Research Foundation has received a $1.7 million grant  from the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation to expand the Blues Project (BLUES) in Shelby and Hamilton Counties in Tennessee.  BLUES, a study aimed at reducing infant mortality rates, is administered by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).  The project provides TennCare-eligible pregnant women access to quality prenatal care and services through clinic-based group visits at approved community health centers.  Additional services include case management, social support, patient education, and referrals to community resources.  Participants can access services from onset of pregnancy until the child's second birthday. Each site includes a team of professionals providing clinical and social services.

After the Bluff City was dubbed as having the highest infant mortality rate among the nation's 60 largest cities in 2004, BLUES Phases I and II were launched in Memphis between 2005 and 2009.  The study, which assists large numbers of women, has served nearly 1,000 at-risk mothers resulting in more than 900 healthy deliveries, only 0.24 infant deaths and 9 percent low birth weight babies.  The $1.7 million grant will be used for the Phase III expansion to extend services to 500 pregnant women at two health care centers in Chattanooga (Hamilton County), as well as to an additional 500 women in Shelby County.

In 2006, Hamilton County posted the second-highest infant mortality rate (11.2 deaths per 1,000 live births) in the state and the highest African-American infant mortality rate (23.7 deaths per 1,000 births).  From 2001 to 2005, nearly 16 percent of Hamilton County's live births were born preterm.  Of the preterm deliveries, 72 percent resulted in infant deaths.  Hamilton County has the highest occurrence of low birth weight in the state at 12 percent.  The low birth weight for its African-American babies is almost double that of whites (18.6 percent compared to 9.7 percent, respectively).

Given the expansion into Hamilton County, BLUES purposes to: (1) duplicate the BLUES model to prove the effectiveness of intervention for decreasing infant mortality risks (prematurity and low birth weight); (2) compare the birth and child health outcomes of the Hamilton County participants to those in Shelby County, and (3) establish the Blues Project as an effective, data-driven and cost-efficient model for reducing the health disparity of infant mortality in Tennessee.

"We want to demonstrate the scalability of BLUES and work to build a self-sustained structure of care that will expand, not only in the state of Tennessee, but across the country in cities with similar demographics to Memphis," said Kimberly Lamar, PhD, MPH, MSEH, principal investigator of BLUES and assistant professor for the UTHSC Department of Preventive Medicine.  The BLUES model is holistic in scope compared to other programs and empowers women to overcome social and economic barriers adversely affecting their health and that of their children.  Results show African-American BLUES mothers have made significant improvements in their educational and employment goals by the end of their second year follow-up.

"The $1.7 million BlueCross BlueShield grant will also be used to measure the impact of patient education, social support and prenatal care on infant mortality in pregnant women," stated Dr. Lamar.  "The overall goal of BLUES is to decrease primary risk factors of infant mortality."

BLUES works to reduce: preterm and low birth weight deliveries, maternal and neonatal hospital days, infant death rates within the first year of life, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and accidental child injuries.  Additionally, by the end of the 24-month postpartum period, BLUES serves to improve the mother's educational status, employment status, parenting skills and psychosocial status (stress, depression, mental health, substance abuse, and incidences of domestic violence).

Dr. Lamar emphasizes that intervention only at the clinic level is not sufficient for significantly addressing health disparities.