tags on every page of your site. -->
Nov 10, 2018
Cigna Grant to Montana Hospital Helps Native American Mothers Have Healthy Babies

A Cigna Foundation grant is responding to the need to help Native American moms receive prenatal care and deliver healthy babies. Infant mortality rates for Native women are significantly higher than rates for white women, a National Center for Health Statistics study found [PDF]1

“In general, the Native American culture has a level of distrust with organized health care and hospitals,” said Vicki Birkeland Nursing Director and Women’s Services Director at St. Vincent SCL Health in Billings, Montana.

The Cigna Foundation recognized these health disparities in the Native American population and wanted to help. A grant of $100,000 helps a program to continue at St. Vincent that funds a community health worker. She specializes in the improvement of outreach, education, and health outcomes for Native American patients.

Kassie Runsabove is the Community Health Worker and Health Disparities Coordinator at St. Vincent whose work is funded by the grant. Montana is home to 12 different Native American tribes, and Runsabove says that St. Vincent serves people from at least six of those tribes “on a daily basis.”

“Runsabove is a Native American, and really can bridge that cultural gap between the tribes and St. Vincent’s Hospital,” said Mary Tullis Engvall,  Executive Director of the Cigna Foundation. “One of the things that she’s been able to identify is a real gap around maternal care and the health of babies.”

Part of Runsabove’s job is educating the St. Vincent clinical staff about the Native American population. She’s also zeroed in on improving prenatal and postnatal care. “I really wanted to focus in on the NICU. We’re taught not to really prepare for our baby until our baby’s here,” Runsabove said.

The Cigna Foundation’s grant, in addition to funding Runsabove’s work, will help improve the cultural competency skills of maternity care and women’s health care midwives and providers. Cigna is also working with North Cheyenne tribal community partners to provide prenatal education on healthy nutrition and stress management.

The expected outcomes of the St. Vincent grant include:

  • Earlier access to prenatal care
  • Decreasing the number of NICU admissions
  • Decreasing the number of babies born prematurely
  • Decreasing deliveries at Indian Health Services facilities that don’t provide delivery services
  • Increasing participation in substance abuse recovery programs

“By receiving good prenatal care, these babies then have a chance,” said Chantielle Blackwell, Certified Nurse Midwife at St. Vincent.


1 Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Birth Outcomes, March of Dimes, February 2015, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Birth Outcomes [PDF]