United Health Foundation Donates $1,250,000 to ECU to Support Maternal Health Needs of North Carolina Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

August 13, 2020
  • East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine to expand services and support for at-risk mothers and newborns

The United Health Foundation has donated $1,250,000 to East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine to expand access to health care and improve health outcomes for North Carolina’s mothers and babies. The funding will expand telepsychiatry services to better address the mental health needs of expectant and new mothers, develop and deploy a new obstetric care model for high-risk patients, and address food insecurity among pregnant women.

This effort is part of UnitedHealth Group’s (NYSE: UNH) more than $100 million commitment to fight COVID-19, support impacted communities and address emerging health care issues related to the pandemic. Grant partnerships to address maternal health are being announced today with East Carolina University (ECU) in North Carolina as well as Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia. Both states are experiencing increased rates of COVID-19 infections and have historically high rates of maternal and infant mortality.

“Many women in eastern North Carolina struggle to access quality care for themselves and their children, and the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to these serious challenges,” said Anita Bachmann, chief executive officer, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina. “During this unprecedented time, our partnership with East Carolina University will help ensure that pregnant and postpartum women have greater access to mental health services, obstetric care and food in order to deliver healthy newborns.”

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of all developed countries and is the only industrialized nation with a rising rate. North Carolina ranked 30th in the rate of maternal mortality compared to all U.S. states, with the rate of maternal mortality 2.9 times higher for Black women than white women in the state, according to America’s Health Rankings 2019 Health of Women and Children Report. North Carolina also ranked 41st in infant mortality in the same report.

Part of the $1,250,000 donation to East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine will support the expansion of NC-STeP – a statewide telepsychiatry program founded by Dr. Sy Saeed, professor and chairman in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine – to three community-based primary care obstetric clinics serving patients across a 29-county service area. ECU will also develop and deploy a new obstetric care model for high-risk patients at the three clinics, allowing patients to receive care from an ECU maternal fetal medicine specialist and their local physician. Additionally, funds will be used to expand the Medical Food Pantry program to focus on the nutritional needs of pregnant women at risk for food insecurity.

Dr. James deVente, associate professor of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine, said the United Health Foundation’s donation shows an “unparalleled commitment to improving the health of mothers and newborns” in eastern North Carolina.

“The region of North Carolina that we serve – which is almost a third of the state – has some of the greatest challenges in patient demographics, geography and socioeconomics,” deVente said. We greatly appreciate this partnership with the United Health Foundation, which will enable us to provide more care for at-risk patients closer to their homes and their communities. This reduces an incredible amount of stress for the patient with respect to having to travel an average of 60 miles to be seen in our high-risk clinic, and it markedly reduces the chances that they will miss an appointment. This will help make eastern North Carolina a better place to be born, and that is something the Brody School of Medicine has been passionately dedicated to for the past 40 years.”

UnitedHealth Group is committed to improving the health of mothers and newborns, raising awareness for improved maternal health, and reducing the occurrence of avoidable maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. UnitedHealthcare’s Healthy Pregnancy and Maternity Support programs provide resources and services to help expectant mothers get the most out of their benefits, make informed decisions, and promote dialogue with care providers. The company is also actively addressing disparities in maternal health outcomes education in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morehouse School of Medicine and the March of Dimes.

To date, UnitedHealth Group has donated more than $100 million to support impacted communities including health care workers, hard-hit states and localities, seniors and those experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. UnitedHealthcare announced a total of $1 million in grants in July to six community-based organizations in North Carolina to expand capacity and fight COVID-19. These grant recipients included YMCA of the Triangle, Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC, American Heart Association, Meals on Wheels Association of North Carolina, Granville-Vance Public Health and Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.

About UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health care company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and helping to make the health system work better for everyone. UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. For more information, visit UnitedHealth Group at or follow @UnitedHealthGrp on Twitter.

About East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine

The mission of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University is to improve the health status of residents in eastern North Carolina. Brody consistently ranks in the top 10% of U.S. medical schools for graduating physicians who practice in-state, who practice primary care and who practice in rural and underserved areas. Close to 1,720 Brody medical and residency graduates practice in 86 of North Carolina’s 100 counties; 42% of those graduates practice in underserved counties in the East. Brody’s 346 medical students are all North Carolina residents and train in ECU Physicians, Brody’s faculty-led practice, which partners with Vidant Health to serve as the “health care safety net” for a 29-county area of eastern North Carolina.