Objective: To examine whether community health centers (CHCs) reduce racial/ethnic disparities in perinatal care and birth outcomes, and to identify CHC characteristics associated with better outcomes.
Background: Despite great national wealth, the U.S. continues to rank poorly relative to other industrialized nations on infant mortality and other birth outcomes, and with wide inequities by race/ethnicity. Disparities in primary care (including perinatal care) may contribute to disparities in birth outcomes, which may be addressed by CHCs that provide safety-net medical services to vulnerable populations.
Methods: Data are from annual Uniform Data System reports submitted to the Bureau of Primary Health Care over six years (1996-2001) by about 700 CHCs each year.
Results: Across all years, about 60% of CHC mothers received first-trimester prenatal care and more than 70% received postpartum and newborn care. In 2001, Asian mothers were the most likely to receive both postpartum and newborn care (81.7% and 80.3%), followed by Hispanics (75.0% and 76.3%), blacks (70.8% and 69.9%), and whites (70.7% and 66.7%). In 2001, blacks had higher rates of low birth weight (LBW) babies (10.4%), but the disparity in rates for blacks and whites was smaller in CHCs (3.3 percentage points) compared to national disparities for low-socioeconomic status mothers (5.8 percentage points) and the total population (6.2 percentage points). In CHCs, greater perinatal care capacity was associated with higher rates of first-trimester prenatal care, which was associated with a lower LBW rate.
Conclusion: Racial/ethnic disparities in certain prenatal services and birth outcomes may be lower in CHCs compared to the general population, despite serving higher-risk groups. Within CHCs, increasing first-trimester prenatal care use through perinatal care capacity may lead to further improvement in birth outcomes for the underserved.