‘Date nights’ improve prenatal health, cut costs

Try this new way to deliver prenatal education

The Family Birth Center at North Colorado Medical Center and local employer ConAgra Red Meats, both in Greeley, have teamed up to reduce pregnancy complications and cut costs using prenatal education. The program, ConAgra Date Night, has resulted in dramatic savings since its 1994 inception.

"Our goal is to have healthier moms and babies," says Pat Aimino, RN, MSN, manager of the Family Birth Center. "One of the most crucial times is during early pregnancy, so we try to get women in to prevent low-birth-weight and pre-term babies."

The program is part of the Healthy Moms, Babies, and Families program of the Employee Health and Family Wellness department of ConAgra Red Meats, a meat packing company with subsidiaries nationwide. About four years ago, the self-insured company noticed that a large number of women were having pregnancy complications that were costing the company nearly $3 million per year. The Healthy Moms, Babies, and Families program was created to reduce pregnancy health risks and costs. Date Night has become a special part of the program.

Date Night attendance averages seven couples and two to three singles each session. Open only to ConAgra employees, the program is voluntary. Sharing program direction responsibilities are Kim Henry, MS, projects coordinator, and Aurora Moreno, health promotion coordinator. Both are in the company’s Employee and Family Health and Wellness department. They send information to new hires, put notices in the company newsletter, and place posters in the company’s break rooms. They also dispatch public service announcements to the local Spanish- speaking radio stations, Henry says, because most of the community’s Spanish-speakers work at ConAgra.

Invitation for a nice meal

Once couples and single women are registered and report they are expecting a baby, an invitation to Date Night is sent to their homes. Henry and staff also make follow-up calls to encourage parents-to-be to attend.

"We make it nice," Aimino says. "We deco-rate the tables, serve a fairly nice meal and a fancy dessert." The medical center’s in-house catering service prepares the meal. The catering group also decorates the tables with seasonal decorations.

During the first two-hour session, participants dine for an hour and spend the remaining time receiving prenatal care information from health care experts at the North Colorado Medical Center or in the community at-large, "primarily something that has to do with promoting health or identifying health risks," Aimino says. The topics are taken from a list of pregnancy health risks identified by the March of Dimes.

The second session includes dinner, as well as a question-and-answer period and tour of the birth center — both of which Aimino conducts.

"We tend to go just a bit longer because we answer questions, show a birthing room, and make sure they are pre-registered," Aimino says.

Because Date Night is part of a comprehensive prenatal program, statistics concerning reduction of complications and dollar savings specific to Date Night exclusively are not available. Henry reported that the complete program has saved thousands of dollars. Though ConAgra did not disclose exact figures, dollar-amount rankings for claims paid tell the story. Claims payments for sick babies, for instance, ranked as the fourth highest insurance expense in 1993. In 1996, they plunged to No. 14. In 1993, pregnancies were the No. 1 insurance expense, and by 1996, they dropped to No. 13. (See chart, p. 73.)

Date Night costs about $500 a quarter, with the Family Birth center and ConAgra splitting the cost evenly. The money goes to buy food; speakers donate their services.

"Those few dollars are just a drop in the bucket when you compare them to the cost of caring for a premature baby," Aimino says. "Reducing health risks and pregnancy complications early, if not even before women decide to become pregnant, provides for healthier babies, and healthier babies save money."