Adrienne Zertuche, MD, MPH, is the 2015-2016 recipient of the Warren H. Pearse Women’s Health Policy Research Award, presented by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The award provides $10,000 to support research related to health care policy that affects physicians’ ability to treat women.
“It is an incredible honor to receive the Warren H. Pearse Women’s Health Policy Research Award,” said Zertuche, a third-year resident in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics. “Georgia has the second highest maternal mortality ratio in the United States and has a shortage of obstetric providers in most rural areas; I am delighted that ACOG has recognized the potential my research and advocacy work has to improve access to care and maternal/neonatal outcomes in our state.”
Zertuche’s project, entitled “Severe maternal morbidity during delivery hospitalization at birthing facilities with varying levels of maternal and neonatal care: Georgia, United States, 1999-2012,” will be the first in the state of Georgia to evaluate pregnant women with severe illness, in addition to women who die in relation to pregnancy. Maternal morbidity and maternal mortality have often been studied separately, but by combining the data, it may be easier to identify and implement initiatives aimed at preventing both outcomes.
The project will also pioneer an assessment of the maternal and neonatal services available at each of the state’s hospitals, which can be used to maximize resource allocation, as well as to facilitate the referral and transfer of pregnant women who need additional maternal or neonatal services at the time of delivery. Then, the project will set both state and national precedent by considering the relationship between severe maternal morbidity/mortality and level of maternal care. This work may result in a novel quality improvement indicator for maternal health: the proportion of women with severe maternal morbidity that are delivered at an advanced maternal care hospital (or transferred there shortly thereafter).
“When it is difficult for a pregnant rural Georgia resident to access care in general, it is vital that she is designated to receive the correct level of treatment according to her obstetric risk,” says Zertuche. “A well-functioning regionalized system of perinatal care might decrease the burden on Georgia’s already-strained population of obstetric providers.”
This project builds on Zertuche’s previous work with the Georgia Maternal and Infant Health Research Group (GMIHRG), which she founded in 2010. GMIHRG has conducted research on the shortage of obstetricians in rural Georgia, as well as its causes and consequences. The group has presented its findings to Georgia’s legislators several times over the past five years and has played a key role in inspiring, promoting, and stalling a variety of initiatives. Most recently, GMIHRG influenced the 2014 passage of HB 998, which supports the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce in providing financial incentives to obstetrician-gynecologists who practice in underserved rural areas.
As a result of her GMIHRG leadership, Zertuche was the inaugural recipient of ACOG’s Junior Fellow Rising Star in Advocacy Award. She was also selected for ACOG’s Gellhaus Resident Advocacy Fellowship, which will provide training in politics and health care advocacy at the federal level; Zertuche will complete the fellowship this year.
“Dr. Zertuche has distinguished herself as a thought leader and action-oriented contributor in our field, and she has the potential to rise to leadership as an academic obstetrician-gynecologist,” says Ira R. Horowitz, MD, SM, John D. Thompson Professor and Chairman of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics. “This award will allow her to continue to influence policy that will translate to improved quality and outcomes in maternal health for our region and our specialty.”
Zertuche’s faculty mentors on this project are Jessica Arluck, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine; Anne Dunlop, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, and Associate Professor, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University; Dave Goodman, PhD, MPH, Senior Scientist, Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Program, Division of Reproductive Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Michael Kramer, PhD, MS, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University; and Roger Rochat, MD, Research Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.