Health Check: RI's premature birth rate decreases

Samson Joseph Harwood was born on May 15, about 15 weeks early.

At the time, he weighed in at 2 pounds, 3 ounces. But he's gaining ground in Women & Infants Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health Michael Fine got his first look at the new unit on Tuesday.

"We have the only newborn intensive care unit (in the region)," he said.

Vanessa, of Westerly, isn't sure why she went into pre-term labor. She carried her 3-year-old son Jacob to full term.

But she knows she's in good hands thanks to her medical team and family support services. CVS Caremark is a major funder.

"Over the last couple of years we've invested $300,000 here at Women & Infants in the NICU family support services to really help. Right now, I think we've crossed the 1,100 family mark to help those families that are managing through pre-term," said Eileen Boone of CVS Caremark.

There will always be babies born too son, but the March of Dimes in Rhode Island has been working to reduce those rates.

And statewide, that has happened.

Between 2009 and 2011, the premature birth rate dropped by 8.8 percent, enough to meet the challenge from March of Dimes.

Fine recently received an award on behalf of the state.

"It's a great incentive, but a reminder of how much work there is to do as well. We have a multidisciplinary team in place and we all work together," Fine said.

"Everyone works on a variety of issues getting the information out about the importance of not smoking during pregnancy and getting in to good and early pregnancy care," said Dr. James Padbury of Women & Infants Hospital.

Fine said his ultimate goal is to get the premature birth rate down to below 9 percent, and become the healthiest state in the country.

Right now, the rate is 10.4 percent.