GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — North Carolina ranks one of the worst states when it comes to healthcare access for women and children. This is according to studies like one that is now being worked on by UnitedHealthcare and East Carolina University to close those gaps.

Through a $1,250,000 project between UHC and ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, officials hope to be able to help bring about better-specialized care to those who need it.

“Basically people can get access to what science has promised them,” said Dr. Sy Saeed, Professor & Chair at ECU’s Department of Psychiatry.

North Carolina ranks as one of the worst states when looking at infant and maternal mortality rates. Now, UnitedHealthcare and East Carolina University are teaming up to bring about change for these groups.

“What we saw in COVID is where there were already disparities and already concerns regarding health outcomes, especially in the communities that are most vulnerable, that those rates escalated,” said Dr. Michelle Bucknor, UHC of North Carolina’s Chief Medical Officer.

Doctor Michelle Bucknor is the Chief Medical Officer for UHC in North Carolina. She says when it comes to access to specialized care that is necessary, that’s where the state is lacking.

“It’s really important when a woman does have a higher risk pregnancy to see those maternal-fetal specialists,” said Dr. Bucknor. “If you have to take a three-hour trip and transportation is a challenge for you it’s likely you’re going to not be able to access that specialty care.”

When her team saw ECU already had what is called the ‘NC STeP Program’, they felt a partnership was the right answer, coming up with the ‘MOTHeRS Project’.

“We build a relationship with the primary OBGYN clinic at a rural site and we bring maternal-fetal specialists to them with telehealth,” said Dr. Saeed.

Doctor Sy Saeed is a Professor and Chair for ECU’s Department of Psychiatry. He notes the model they’ve designed can be applied to many groups like that of women and infants.

“We have designed a model which is scalable, so we can start with one clinic, one hospital, or we can do it statewide or we can do it nationally,” said Dr. Saeed.

Saying that it has not only saved money and time but lives as well.

“We have seen 50,000 assessments so far in this program. We have prevented over 7,000 unnecessary hospitalizations. That in itself is saving the state an excess of 40 million dollars,” said Dr. Saeed when talking about the NC STeP Program as a whole.

Click here for a deeper look at the project.

For more information and statistics, click here.