Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear stethoscopes, lab coats, or just a warm smile. And sometimes, they might even work at UnityPoint Health®. Dr. Rahmat Na’Allah, Dr. Kari Beth Watts, and Jimena Lopez are devoted to women’s healthcare and using their talents to make our community a better place for growing families. Last year, they learned about a group prenatal care program called CenteringPregnancy and immediately acted to bring this program home.
“CenteringPregnancy follows a group prenatal care model which is different from general prenatal care. In this model, a group of women due around the same time have their prenatal care checkups together. They see their doctor for a private one-on-one visit and then they have a group discussion,” Na’Allah says.
Watts explains the social aspect enables women to speak and interact with their doctor 10 times more than with standard prenatal care. The groups discuss a variety of topics. Guest speakers such as labor and delivery nurses and lactation consultants help women understand what to expect during and after birth.
“Research shows group prenatal care can decrease preterm and low weight births and increase breastfeeding rates,” Watts says.
“Peoria has a higher rate of preterm births, babies born before their full term, than the state of Illinois and the entire US. There’s also a large disparity between black and white moms. We want to narrow the gap,” Na’Allah says.
Na’Allah and Watts first heard of CenteringPregnancy through Dr. Anna Grady. Now a graduate of UnityPoint Health’s family medicine obstetrics fellowship, Dr. Grady’s previous residency program in Indiana ran a successful CenteringPregnancy program. When Na’Allah and Watts first brought the program to Peoria, they used the Heartland Health Services - Carver to host the group. Now, they’re expanding to include UnityPoint Clinic – Family Medicine and hoping to add more sites in greater Peoria.
“UnityPoint Health gets to be a leader in a solution to this problem. I’m proud to be a member of this organization,” Na’Allah says.
Because the group sessions and deliveries are performed by residents, Na’Allah and Watts wanted to add consistency by hiring a coordinator.
Lopez spent 14 years translating for area hospitals and actively working with the health department’s reproductive healthcare efforts before joining the team.
“I’m honored to have this job. I feel as an immigrant, it’s my responsibility to make sure my community feels taken care of. If it’s in my power to make this a better place to live, then I’ll do everything I can to make that happen,” Lopez says.
Lopez applied her activist background to organize the community and educate on group prenatal care. While doctors assist CenteringPregnancy mothers with their medical needs, Lopez provides them with moral support.
“I’m trying to create an environment where they feel comfortable being open,” Lopez says.
“We want this to be a place moms feel safe speaking up. Pregnancy can be isolating and frightening. A lot of our patients come from a place where they feel they have no power,” Watts adds.
The effects on the group’s first experience with patient-centered care are visible.
“The focus is on the babies of course. But my job is to also focus on the moms. I’m showing them it’s important to take care of themselves. We’re listening to their problems and trying to come up with solutions as a group,” Lopez says.
An added peace of mind mothers in CenteringPregnancy can expect is the security of knowing the doctor delivering their baby will not be a stranger. Group prenatal care means these moms get to interact with all the residents in CenteringPregnancy.
“Baby comes when baby wants to come. If their doctor is unavailable to help for the delivery, then another doctor in CenteringPregnancy will step in,” Lopez says.
All three are proud of the work they’ve accomplished. Although this continues to be a new journey for area mothers and themselves, they find courage from each other.
“It’s a full circle moment for me because this is where I feel in love with family medicine. And now I work with all these incredible mentors. It’s rewarding and satisfying to have the opportunity to lead a project like this early in my career and work alongside my role models,” Watts says.
As one of nine family medicine physicians who practice Obstetrics in the area, Na’Allah is passing her experience and extensive knowledge of high-risk obstetrics to a new generation of providers.
“I love delivering babies. It’s an honor to help a baby come into this world after their family trusted me for nine months,” Na’Allah says.
“I feel lucky to be working with the best OB doctors in the area. They truly believe in a holistic approach to healthcare and they care about making a difference,” Lopez says.
But at the end of the day, they don’t want any spotlights or red carpets. Because for them the focus is on moms and babies.
“We would love for Peoria to become a place where your zip code and race doesn’t predetermine your health outcome. To all newly pregnant moms out there, please come and give us the opportunity to provide you with outstanding obstetric care,” Watts adds.
For more information, email Jimena Lopez, CenteringPregnancy Coordinator, or call (309) 218-2373.