— It is an unpleasant statistic – more mothers die during, or just after, giving birth in the United States than any other developed country. Black women are at particular risk.

But in North Carolina, the maternal mortality of black women has decreased by 40 percent in the last 15 years, and unlike most of the country, the rate of maternal mortality for white and black women is about the same.

A state-wide Medicaid program is credited with the gains.

Perinatal nurse Joyce Jiggetts says her favorite part of her job is seeing mom and baby happy and healthy after a successful delivery.

“Our main goal is to have a healthy baby. That’s the bottom line, to have a healthy baby,” Jiggetts said.

Melissa Jackson has a previous child prematurely and early screenings classified her as high risk.

A growing program called “Pregnancy Medical Home” pairs a pregnancy care manager with a high-risk mom covered under Medicaid.

Medicaid pregnancy program helps maternal mortality rates in NC

Jiggetts played coach, counselor and nurse for Jackson through her entire pregnancy.

“(She’s) just someone that fills in the blanks. If I have a question or I couldn’t get in touch with the doctor or if I was maybe even feeling out of sorts, you know,” Jackson said.

Jiggetts is one of 420 pregnancy care managers stationed at hospitals and county health departments across North Carolina. The program, run by Community Care of North Carolina, is only about six years old.

Kate Berrien, vice president of clinical programs at CCNC, said the program uses new technology to identify and target moms most at risk and provide them extra care.

“We’re working with women who may be juggling multiple health conditions while they’re pregnant and seeing lots of specialists, needing lots of testing, needing very frequent, close follow-ups to have a safe pregnancy,” Berrien said.

Jiggetts says she keeps in close touch with her patients.

“I always tell my patients, ‘If you miss your appointment, I’m going to call you. If you ignore me, I’m going to send a letter, and if you ignore that, I’m showing up at your door,'” she said.

Last year, Medicaid covered nearly 54,000 pregnant women in the state. Half of them got support from a pregnancy care manager.

“It’s a sizeable population. We really want to make sure that we’re targeting our most intensive services to the women who are going to benefit the most from what we have to offer,” Berrien said.

Nearly half of the moms only qualify for Medicaid during pregnancy. Many are like Jackson, who isn’t covered by her employer, but makes too much to qualify for Medicaid otherwise.

“I needed it to work for me. I needed it to get through this process,” Jackson said.

CCNC told WRAL News that the program also saves the state tens of millions of dollars by providing the direct guidance and helping reduce trips to the emergency room.

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Medicaid pregnancy program helps maternal mortality rates in NC