Abell Salutes: Maternity Center East

Salutes / Health and Human Services

Clinic, counseling center, and home — “Women like to come in just to talk.”

Maternity Center East is the oldest continuously operating family planning clinic in Baltimore City. Established in 1972, the clinic provides family planning, obstetric, prenatal and primary health care to adolescent girls and women in East Baltimore. The clinic, affiliated with Johns Hopkins Health System, serves hundreds of predominantly low-income patients, many of whom have been receiving care from Maternity Center East for many years. 33% of the clinic’s family planning patients are uninsured, and 47% are on medical assistance. The clinic has a sliding fee scale for patients who are uninsured, and does not turn anyone away because of inability to pay. In addition, the clinic provides free or low-cost contraceptive supplies to uninsured patients to help them avoid unintended pregnancies.

Since 1993, The Abell Foundation has provided funds to Maternity Center East to pay for contraceptive supplies for uninsured women. The clinic’s family planning efforts have met with success: in FY2003, just 5% of its 180 active family planning patients and less than 6% of adolescent family planning patients had unplanned pregnancies.

Other numbers reinforce the clinic’s success story: Maternity Center East provides its services to approximately 800 needy women in three clinics — Pregnancy Registration, Adolescent Pregnancy, and Family Planning – conducting nearly 2,400 patient visits per year at a cost of $156 per patient visit. In a neighborhood with a teen birth rate that is nearly one and a half times the City-wide rate, and where more than 76% of families with children under age 18 are headed by single parents, these are dollars well spent to prevent unintended pregnancies and ensure that teens and women who do give birth have healthy babies. Boasting a teen pregnancy rate less than a quarter of the estimated rate (26%) for the surrounding Madison/East End neighborhood, Maternity Center East is having an important impact on the lives of its adolescent patients.

The clinic’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed: Maternity Center East was named “best Hopkins clinic” by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations in 1998 and 2001, and “best community clinic” by the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition in 1998.

Although teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined significantly over the past decade, Baltimore continues to outpace Maryland and the United States in its rate of births to teens. In 2000, Baltimore’s teen birth rate of 83.3 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19 was more than double the statewide rate of 41.2, and 72% more than the national rate of 48.5. With an estimated 44% of teen pregnancies ending in abortion or miscarriage, the teen pregnancy rate is far higher than the teen birth rate – approximately 150 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-19, or 15%, in Baltimore. In addition to teen births, the proportion of babies born to unmarried women – 70.5% of all births in the City in 2000 – is among the highest in the nation. Moreover, 7% of Baltimore women who gave birth in 2000 received late or no prenatal care, nearly twice the statewide rate of 3.7%.

These numbers have serious consequences for individual women and their children. Nearly 14% of babies born in Baltimore in 2001 had low birth weights, placing them at higher risk for a range of developmental delays and lifelong disabilities. In 2001 Baltimore’s rate of 11.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births was 50% higher than the Statewide rate of 7.9. In addition, numerous studies have documented the risks posed to both teen and unmarried mothers and their children, including: higher rates of school dropout among teen mothers; higher rates of poverty in families headed by teen and single mothers; higher rates of child abuse and neglect; and poorer school performance among children raised in these families. These outcomes underscore the importance of quality, affordable, accessible family planning and reproductive health care for women in Baltimore. By providing such care to hundreds of low income women each year, Maternity Center East helps its patients pursue their lives without the burden of an unwanted pregnancy, and helps Baltimore’s children enjoy a healthy start in life.

Jeri Mancini is the director of Maternity Center East and speaks with understandable pride of the clinic’s remarkable record. “We are often serving three generations in the same family,” she says. “To these families we are more than clinic. Here they find the comfort and hope of home, hospital and counseling center. Many of our clients come in just to talk. Maybe that confidence in us is the best endorsement of our work.”

The Abell Foundation salutes Maternity Center East, a clinic where women who want to take charge of their health can come in and “just talk,” while receiving first-rate family planning and prenatal care.