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OU Health Sciences Center Team Receives Research Funding to Improve Maternal Mortality of Indigenous Mothers

OU Health Sciences Center Team Receives Research Funding to Improve Maternal Mortality of Indigenous Mothers


Published: Friday, September 16, 2022

A team at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has been awarded $250,000 through the Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Awards program, an initiative of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. The funding will allow the team to establish a research agenda that aims to improve the safety and vitality of Indigenous mothers.

In the U.S., Indigenous mothers die at rates two to three times higher than non-Hispanic white mothers, yet research addressing root causes is scarce. Emily Jones, Ph.D., R.N.C.-O.B., and Karina Shreffler, Ph.D., researchers in the Fran and Earl Ziegler OU College of Nursing, will lead the Engagement Award for the OU Health Sciences Center, working in collaboration with Indigenous women, healthcare providers, and tribal, academic, health system and Indian Health Service/policy partners. The project team will work closely with the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board and will focus their efforts in the Southern Plains (Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas), serving 44 federally recognized tribes. The Southern Plains Tribal Health Board serves the largest population using the Indian Health Service. Most births to Indigenous mothers occur in tribal or Indian Health Service hospitals.

“The Engagement Award is completely focused on building capacity so that in the future we can carry out meaningful research with tribal community stakeholders and partners to understand the reasons why we are seeing higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality in Indigenous women in the U.S.,” Jones said. Between 15 to 20 stakeholders from the region, made up of experts from tribal communities, will meet virtually to develop a research agenda. “They already have the knowledge and expertise, which is invaluable. Together we can develop an agenda for action, particularly focused on research questions that address root causes of Indigenous maternal health inequities.”

The research agenda will be relevant to various cultures, regions and situations. Its design will create a roadmap for better understanding the systems, structures, laws, policies, norms and practices that determine the distribution of maternal health resources, which in turn shape the health outcomes of Indigenous mothers. “The statistics are alarming and we need to engage with our systems to address this health crisis that is claiming the lives of our mothers during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum,” said Nicolas Barton, Executive Director of the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board. “I believe partnering with OU Health Sciences Center is extremely valuable to develop strategies for our Tribal Nations to consider in reducing the health disparity while also improving the health of mom and family during pregnancy and after.”

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund comparative clinical effectiveness research that will provide patients, their caregivers, and clinicians with the evidence needed to make better-informed health and healthcare decisions. The organization also funds patient-centered outcomes research, which focuses on outcomes that patients and other healthcare stakeholders describe as important.

The OU Health Sciences Center’s project and the other projects approved for funding by the PCORI Engagement Award Program were selected through a highly competitive review process in which applications were assessed for their ability to meet PCORI’s engagement goals and objectives, as well as program criteria.

"This project was selected for Engagement Award funding because it will build a community equipped to participate as partners in clinical effectiveness research and develop partnerships and infrastructure to disseminate PCORI-funded research results,” said Greg Martin, PCORI’s Acting Chief Engagement and Dissemination Officer. “We look forward to working with the OU Health Sciences Center throughout the two-year course of their project.”