A new clinic at New Orleans East Hospital aims to expand access to maternal health care in an area where transportation has often posed a barrier to such services for a predominantly Black population facing significant risk factors.

Maternal fetal medicine experts from LSU Health are now providing care, including ultrasound imaging and medical consultations, for people with high-risk pregnancies. They are working closely with obstetricians who serve women in New Orleans East. The clinic is already seeing patients two days a week, with a grand opening scheduled for next month. 

The hospital serves a community with a high rate of pregnancy, according to census data, and where many people have underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes that contribute to high-risk pregnancies, said Dr. Candace Robinson, the hospital’s chief medical officer. 

Before the clinic’s arrival, women in New Orleans East often had to travel to other parts of the city for these services. The area has had limited options for maternal health care since its birthing hospital shuttered following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

That travel can be costly, time-consuming and inefficient, especially for low-income women and those who rely on public transit, according to maternal health advocates in the city.

“It was important for us to be able to improve that disparity by at least trying to give them access to this type of expert care closer to their home and within the community,” Robinson said. 

Through its partnership with LSU Health, the hospital, which is overseen by the city’s hospital district and managed by LCMC Health, will also offer patient education programs to improve health literacy for mothers.

Dr. Robert Maupin, who leads the division of maternal fetal medicine at LSU Health in New Orleans, said the clinic will make weekly appointments much more accessible for patients. Maupin said he expects the program to expand in the next year and a half as the clinic continues to receive referrals from local obstetricians. 

The clinic is a step toward the hospital’s eventual goal of opening labor and delivery services, according to Robinson, who said the hospital is seeking funding for construction and other costs.

Many in the area delivered their babies at Methodist Hospital before the devastating effects of Katrina triggered its closure and the departure of obstetricians connected to the health system, per Maupin. 

New Orleans East Hospital, which opened in 2014 at the old Methodist site, has not had labor and delivery services since. Currently, pregnant people in the East must travel to one of the city’s two birthing hospitals Uptown — Touro or Ochsner Baptist — or to another parish to give birth.

According to Maupin, there is now one private practice and two federally qualified health centers with obstetricians in the New Orleans East area, which is majority-Black and also home to much of the city’s Vietnamese population.

The new clinic’s focus on ensuring mothers have healthy pregnancies will help improve the health of their children and families at large in the area, Maupin said: “We know that this is really the foundation for healthy families.”

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Michelle previously worked for The Associated Press in South Carolina and was an inaugural corps member with the Report for America initiative. She also covered statewide criminal justice issues for Mississippi...