The city's hospital plans to beef up the way it treats expectant mothers because Niagara Falls has the highest rate of preterm births in Western New York.
During a symposium Tuesday in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, hospital officials announced a new prenatal service that will be offered from 1 to 5 p.m. each Wednesday, starting today.
Health care and support services for pregnant women will be available during that time on the third floor of the Mary C. Dyster Women's Pavilion, 621 10th St.; appointments can be made by calling 278-4444.
The program will accept all insurances, as well as offer payment arrangements and expedited insurance enrollment to individuals the services assist.
"We know that the key to delivering healthy babies is healthy mothers," Memorial President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo said. "This new service is designated to provide the health care and support services pregnant women need in a way that is caring, convenient and accessible."
Preterm births -- babies born before 37 weeks of gestation, compared with the normal 40 weeks -- carry a higher mortality rate than full-term births.
Nearly 25 percent of all pregnant women living in Niagara County receive no prenatal care during their first trimester, according to data from the state Health Department and the University at Buffalo.
From 2007 through 2009, the preterm birth rate in the Falls was 14.8 percent, up from about 12 percent from 1999 to 2001, said James Shelton, perinatal data manager for UB's Department of Gynecology-Obstetrics.
The preterm birth rate for Niagara and Erie counties as a whole stayed at about 12 percent over that time period, Shelton said. There are about 700 births every year in Niagara Falls, he said.
The new service at Falls Memorial will be provided by Dr. Daniel J. Burns, the hospital's chief of obstetrics and gynecology, as well as Dr. Jack Lawler, maternal fetal medicine specialist.
To help the new program be effective, the hospital needs community service organizations -- often on the front lines interacting with women early in their pregnancies -- to spread the word and help enroll individuals, Burns said.
He called the preterm birth rates "pretty alarming statistics."