Sharewood improves prenatal care with new grant

The Sharewood Project has made important strides in providing free prenatal care after recently receiving its second $10,000 payment of a three-year $30,000 grant. Sharewood is a free volunteer-run clinic affiliated with Tufts that provides unscheduled health care to the medically underserved.

According to Allyson Westling, the women’s health administrator at the Sharewood Project, the grant comes from the Tufts Medical Clinic’s Parent to Parent initiative, which funds organizations with the goal of reducing child mortality and improving birth outcomes.

“Before the grant, we were not equipped to do any prenatal counseling within the women’s health center here at Sharewood,” Westling said. “With this money, we have been able to greatly help women who are pregnant [by giving] them the initial prenatal counseling and any testing they may need, as well as getting them linked in to the primary care system.”

Third-year medical student Elyse LaFond secured the grant for Sharewood in the fall of 2012 while serving as women’s health administrator. According to LaFond, the clinic has seen many improvements over the past year in prenatal care for pregnant women. With the grant, Sharewood now has added resources for providing patients with initial lab testing, prenatal vitamins and transportation coverage in order to encourage women to seek continued prenatal care.

LaFond believes the most important part of the clinic’s prenatal care plan is its ability to refer patients to the Malden Family Medicine Center for long-term primary care.

“Before, when a pregnant patient came in, we would do our best to address her acute needs, but we didn’t have very many resources to help with long-term prenatal care,” she said. “Now, we are able to perform a lot of the really important screening tests that women get in their initial prenatal care visits, and then we are able to connect them to long term prenatal care at Malden.”

Ming Lin, president of the Sharewood Project, agreed that finding long-term care for pregnant women is vital to promoting prenatal health in the community.

“Right now, we really want to focus on providing them with a primary care physician so that they can establish more of a long-term relationship,” Lin said. “That way, instead of coming back to Sharewood, they have a more reliable health care provider.”

According to Westling, the Sharewood Project serves many women who are uninsured, homeless or suffering from difficult life circumstances. Many of these patients feel more comfortable going to Sharewood, which they know is free, rather than attempting to find a prenatal clinic, LaFond said.

“[Sharewood] captures a lot of women who might not have otherwise sought an option for prenatal care because they didn’t have insurance or an income,” LaFond said. “At Malden, they can be seen even without insurance, but a lot of women don’t know that Malden Family Medicine is an option, and so Sharewood is a nice liaison.”

According to Lin, the grant has allowed the clinic to greatly increase its publicity efforts, which has resulted in a parallel expansion in the population of women benefiting from Sharewood.

“We used to rely on other organizations to reach out to the population that they serve, but since we got the grant we are able to post our own ads on the [train] stations and send out fliers in Chinatown to target the population directly,” Lin said.

The increased publicity has allowed more patients from impoverished neighborhoods to visit the clinic for prenatal care, Lin said.

“[The grant] has expanded our options a lot more and allowed us to reach out to communities that we haven’t really been able to reach out to before, mainly the Chinatown community, which is really great because that is where Tufts Medical School is,” he said.

Westling said she hopes to reach a goal of attracting 30 more patients to the clinic this year, though the center has the capacity to treat many more.

The Sharewood Project is also a huge attraction for medical students when they are applying to Tufts University School of Medicine, LaFond said.

“I went to Sharewood for the first time on my second day of medical school,” she said. “One of the big draws of the medical school is this amazing free health care organization that students can start working at immediately.”

Westling agrees that Sharewood provides both students and patients with an incredible opportunity.

“Beyond women’s health, the work that both the undergrads and medical students do at Sharewood is a really valuable asset to our education, as well as the community of patients that we work with,” Westling said. “It’s one of the main reasons why I chose to attend Tufts Medical. I thought that the work being done by students is phenomenal, and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”

According to LaFond, the money from the grant was successful, not only in expanding the prenatal care that Sharewood can provide, but also in helping medical students address and learn from a new population of patients.

“The money really helped us to provide prenatal services we weren’t able to before and make connections for those women who previously could not,” she said.