ARKANSAS (KNWA/FOX24) — Arkansas is one of the worst states in the country when it comes to maternal mortality according to the Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee, but new federal funding could help change that.

“Arkansas ranks fifth as the worst in maternal mortality in the United States,” said Dr. Nirvana Manning, Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Genecology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science.

Dr. Manning said the rural nature of Arkansas contributes to the problems that lead to high the state’s high maternal mortality rate.

“Within these pockets, there’s usually higher poverty, there’s usually lower education,” she said.

However, $5 million in HERSA grant fund from the U.S. Department of Health could make some big changes in that. Dr. Manning said UAMS and the Arkansas Department of Health will collaborate in putting that money to good use.

“We want to do outreach in several different ways, addressing maternal health, morbidity, mortality, and just access throughout our state,” she said.

Dr. Creshelle Nash is the Director for Health Equity and Public Programs for Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield. She hopes to see the money help women of color.

“African American and Hispanic women are two to three times more likely to die in childbirth than other women, than white women in the state of Arkansas,” she said.

Data from the Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that Black, non-Hispanic women comprised of 19% of all births in 2018, and 37% of pregnancy-associated deaths.

“I am committed to quality care, or not only our members, people who have our health insurance plan, but the community overall, and we have to remain committed to that,” she said.

She wants to see a solidly trained workforce, a diverse workforce, to address quality of care and to make sure people feel comfortable seeking care from our health systems.

Dr. Manning said they want to break down access barriers by creating hubs throughout the state and utilizing mobile units. She said they also are looking at starting a women’s health online dashboard.

“We will spend significant time on breastfeeding significant time on nutrition, on car seat safety, on health,” she said.

“Communities have to be engaged in every step of the process in defining what the problem is, and defining what the solution is,” said Dr. Nash.

Dr. Manning said the grant will provide $1 million a year for the next five years, and that they will most likely start having meetings about using the funding in October.

Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield is hosting a free seminar called “Take Good Care: Mom and Baby” in Rogers on Thursday, Sept. 22 at the Arkansas Blue Welcome Center from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. There will be experts available to provide important information for expectant moms and women trying to get pregnant.

Click here to register for that event.