CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — In the largest grant in its three-year history, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation has funded a $2.48 million Vanderbilt University research project that will study the growing problem of preterm births in Tennessee.

The study, called Tennessee Connections for Better Birth Outcomes, will be led by Patricia Temple, M.D., professor of pediatrics and medical director for Nurses for Newborns, and Melanie Lutenbacher, Ph. D., with the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

“The high incidence of premature births in our state presents both an emotional and financial strain on our community and our health systems,” said Calvin Anderson, vice president of federal and community relations for BlueCross. “Tennessee is ranked 48th in the nation in infant mortality, and it will take the efforts of many to change this figure for the better. We trust this grant will make a difference, and we are delighted to be announcing it during a similarly important effort: this week’s Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance conference ‘Why Our Babies Die.’”

Temple and Lutenbacher have designed the research project with support from the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt’s Division of Neonatology, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Division of Obstetrics/Gynecology and the School of Nursing. The goal will be to determine if premature births can be prevented in a population of women at high risk for early delivery with the use of prenatal progesterone, also intended to delay subsequent pregnancies. Further goals include reducing health care costs, infant mortality and health disparities associated with pre-term births.

Part of this funding will also pay for post-partum visits by Nurses for Newborns. Temple said those visits alone make up for the cost of this research.

“Prenatal obstetrical nurse home visits can mean fewer preterm infants, fewer prenatal hospitalizations and fewer infant re-hospitalizations,” Temple said. “This can add up to savings of more than 750 hospital days and a total savings of $2.4 million for 85 mothers and their infants.”

Tennessee Health Foundation information and applications for grants may be found at www.bcbst.com under the community relations link.

About Tennessee Health Foundation, Inc.

The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, Inc. (THF) was established in December, 2003 as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation organized to promote the philanthropic mission of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. THF awards grants focused on high-impact initiatives across the state, which promote healthy lifestyle choices and help control health care costs for all Tennessee residents. Working with civic and economic partners, THF is dedicated to the support of research, innovative programs and creative approaches to improve the health and quality of life of Tennesseans for generations to come.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.