BATON ROUGE - March of Dimes President Dr. Jennifer L. Howse was joined by Louisiana Department of Health and Hospital Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein and state health care leaders today as she recognized Louisiana for its focus on fighting prematurity and improving birth outcomes. Louisiana formally accepted the challenge issued by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the March of Dimes to reduce prematurity rates 8 percent by 2014.

"Louisiana is one of the first states to develop a coordinated, statewide initiative to reduce elective deliveries before 39 weeks, demonstrating a substantial commitment to the health of mothers and babies," Dr. Howse said. "It is with great pride that I stand before you all today and congratulate the political and medical leadership of this state for rising to the challenge of preventing prematurity and ensuring more healthy births."

The Louisiana Birth Outcomes Initiative is a multi-faceted initiative driven by top health care leadership to put an intense focus on finding solutions to the state's poor birth outcomes. Historically, Louisiana has ranked among the bottom two or three states in the nation in prematurity and infant mortality rates.

"We have accomplished so much in the last 18 months. Dr. Howse came to Louisiana to see first-hand the work we're doing, and it is a great validation of our efforts," Secretary Greenstein said. "The March of Dimes has fought this battle for so long. Their expertise and leadership on this issue continues to be a great source for helping us improve our health outcomes."

Among the key components of Louisiana's Birth Outcomes effort is the 39-Week Initiative, which ties right into March of Dimes' "Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait" campaign, aimed at curbing the growing number of elective, non-medically indicated deliveries prior to 39 weeks.

Louisiana's 39-Week Initiative is a voluntary program in which hospitals agree to establish policies to end the practice of these unnecessary early deliveries.  Initially, LDH asked the Louisiana hospitals with the largest percentage of births to participate in the 39 Week Initiative. The response was outstanding, with 20 hospitals across the state adopting the initiative by July 2011. As of last week, all of Louisiana's 58 birthing hospitals have signed on.

"The Birth Outcomes Initiative is a great example of the health care community working as a team," Secretary Greenstein said. "I am proud to have such dedicated partners in the fight against prematurity, and I am confident that by working together we can make Louisiana the best place in the nation to have a baby."

"We know that it has not always been easy for our hospitals to take this step and make the pledge to end medically unnecessary deliveries prior to 39 weeks. But the numbers speak for themselves. The reductions we're seeing in the rates of admissions to neo-natal intensive care units are the proof that this effort is working," said Dr. Rebekah Gee, an obstetrician and director of the state's Birth Outcomes Initiative. "And we are not done. The partnerships we've forged continue to grow as we work together to build healthier Louisiana families."

John Matessino, president and CEO of the Louisiana Hospital Association said, "The Louisiana Hospital Association and our member hospitals are committed to our partnership with the March of Dimes and LDH in promoting the 39-week initiative and other vitally important programs that will improve birth outcomes in our state. We are proud of the work that has already been done through this initiative to improve the health of mothers and their babies, and we will continue to collaborate on solutions that help Louisiana residents live healthier lives."

State Rep. Regina Barrow, who has been a legislative champion for the Department's birth outcomes efforts, said, "I'm proud to once again join Secretary Greenstein in recognizing the commitment our state's hospitals have made to ensure Louisiana mothers and babies have the best chance at leading healthy lives. It's such an honor for our state to be recognized by the March of Dimes, and I'm looking forward to seeing our state's hard work reflected in our outcomes."

Chair of the Louisiana Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. William Binder, said, "Louisiana ranks 49th out of 50 states in infant mortality, preterm birth, and in low-birth weight babies. Although these problems certainly have multiple causes, the obstetricians of Louisiana are excited about the prospect of working with the State to improve the outcomes of our pregnant patients. We are fortunate to practice medicine in these times because our efforts may really make a difference."

In addition to the 39-Week Initiative, LDH is putting in place a performance measurement to determine whether these interventions are successful and to ensure transparency in practice; implementing a statewide system to screen, refer and treat Louisiana's highest-risk pregnant women for behavioral health issues; and working to improve preconception and interconception health for women at high risk of poor birth outcomes in Louisiana.

Today, Louisiana went one step further, accepting the March of the Dimes' challenge to reduce the state's prematurity rate 8 percent by 2014.

Dr. Howse, said, "Louisiana is not willing to fail its babies. Louisiana cares about the health of future generations.  Rather than accept defeat, this state has taken up the challenge to reduce its rate of preterm birth by implementing proven strategies that can make a real difference. Today, Louisiana has become the first state in the nation to accept that challenge by declaring a public goal to reduce premature births by 8 percent by 2014.  The March of Dimes estimates that this would save 750 Louisiana babies from an early birth and save the people of this state tens of millions of dollars in health care costs."

Secretary Greenstein added, "I am not one to back down from a challenge, especially when stakes are as high as they are today. We've already taken steps to educate the public and the hospitals about the opportunities they have to reduce the risk of prematurity. I continue to be impressed by their unrelenting dedication."

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit or

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook. To learn more about the Department's effort to improve birth outcomes, visit

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.