Pregnant women in their first trimester now can receive free prenatal care at Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central Texas through a new partnership with Ascension Providence Health Alliance.

In an effort to curb abortion and eliminate barriers to health care, the free prenatal care services are directed toward women with unintended pregnancies who lack access to an obstetrician-gynecologist, according to a press release from Care Net.

Ascension Providence midwives and nurses provide initial prenatal care onsite, while Care Net helps the women establish care with a physician and acquire Medicaid.

Women can seek out these services at Care Net, 1818 Columbus Ave. Walk-ins are welcome.

“We never turn anyone away,” Care Net CEO Deborah McGregor said.

About 2,500 women a year go to Care Net for pregnancy tests, McGregor said. If they test positive, Care Net provides them with six months’ worth of prenatal vitamins and schedules a follow-up appointment with their physician, if they have one.

“Of those pregnancy tests that we do, about 130 a month will have a positive test,” McGregor said. “Half of those will not have a doctor in place, and they won’t have Medicaid.”

That is why McGregor approached Ascension Providence Vice President and Executive Director Dr. Richard Haskett. She wanted to see if he could help fill in that gap in health care coverage. While Care Net staff can help women apply for Medicaid, it can take months to get approval, McGregor said, and pregnant women do not have that time to wait.

“Care Net serves the Waco community by being an initial point of contact for many vulnerable women who find themselves pregnant unexpectedly and are seeking assistance and resources,” Haskett said in a statement. “This partnership greatly benefits the community by providing convenient OB care onsite at a downtown location, and allows women to begin prenatal care in a timely manner while insurance coverage and other resources may still be in process.”

In Texas, Medicaid is available to women with little to no income during pregnancy and up to two months after birth, according to the state Health and Human Services Department website.

During onsite visits at Care Net, Ascension Providence certified nurse midwives review health history, monitor vital signs, perform exams and ultrasounds, and create a plan of care with the woman and her support system, Haskett said.

“When you look at the pregnancy and birth outcomes in McLennan County, they’re not as good as they should be,” McGregor said. “What can we do to make the pregnancy outcomes better? We know that prenatal care is certainly something that they need but they can’t get until they get Medicaid.”

The average annual infant mortality rate for McLennan County from 2012 to 2016 was 7.17 per 1,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state rate was 5.78.

In the first month, 22 out of 66 women used the free prenatal services, McGregor said. The women receive bus passes to come back to their follow-up appointments if they lack transportation and get a friendly reminder when their appointments are approaching. In the meantime, Care Net helps the women establish care with a physician.

“Anything that we can do to make life easier is going to cause her to have less stress, and it’s going to be a better pregnancy,” McGregor said, adding that the path of a woman’s pregnancy often sets the trajectory for the rest of the child’s life.

A 2007 article in Paediatrics & Child Health states that estimates show childhood exposure to poverty doubles the risk of death by age 55, and that risk increases as long as the exposure continues into young adulthood.

Care Net is considering piloting a group prenatal care education class during which women in the same stages of pregnancy would learn about each stage, stepping out to see the provider one at a time, McGregor said. The center would provide child care and refreshments, as well.

“These women get very close to each other,” McGregor said. “Many of these women have never had the kind of friendships that they develop in a group of other women going the same rough road.”

Care Net has the capacity to see up to six patients an hour and typically sees 24 to 26 clients a day, Director Stella Turrubiartez said. The center provides counseling on pregnancy options for women, including adoption and abortion.

Care Net started as the Waco Crisis Pregnancy Center 35 years ago, McGregor said. Its mission is to support women in unplanned pregnancies.

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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