BOZEMAN — St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings is helping propel health care forward in Montana with a $3 million gift to Montana State University’s Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing, which will be used to permanently endow the college’s new certified nurse midwifery program, according to hospital and university officials. The new program is Montana’s first and only certified nurse midwifery program.

“St. Vincent Healthcare has been caring for women and welcoming babies into this world for more than a century. That legacy is the foundation of our commitment to creating a healthier community for generations to come. By partnering with MSU to develop this much-needed nurse midwifery program for our state, we will not only improve the health of the communities we serve but will also help to address a critical workforce shortage within the health care field,” said Jen Alderfer, president of St. Vincent Healthcare and the Montana region of SCL Health. “We are proud to be able to support this significant investment to launch the St. Vincent Certified Nurse Midwifery Program because we understand the profound, positive impact certified nurse midwives provide to women and children throughout Montana.”

St. Vincent has offered certified nurse midwifery as part of its mother-newborn care since 1990. The organization’s midwifery team offers personalized care, outstanding outcomes and a wide range of pregnancy care and birth options for expecting families. Additionally, St. Vincent certified nurse midwives conduct outreach programs on the Northern Cheyenne reservation with the goals of improving pregnancy outcomes in the reservation communities and decreasing the need for neonatal intensive care for infants by helping to identify risk factors and educating mothers-to-be.

“We are deeply grateful to our partners at St. Vincent Healthcare for their commitment to nursing education and maternal health across Montana,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “Their generosity will help ensure that mothers and their babies across our state, particularly in rural and remote areas, will receive the health care they need and deserve.”

MSU’s certified nurse midwifery program will significantly increase the number of specialized maternal health care providers who can deliver services to rural and remote communities in Montana.

Certified nurse midwives are educated to provide health care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period, in addition to sexual and reproductive health care for women throughout their lives. MSU expects to enroll the program’s first group of eight students in fall 2024, with those students graduating as nurse midwives in 2027.

In addition to providing funds for the creation of Montana’s only certified nurse midwifery program, the gift provides for the construction of new, larger, state-of-the-art educational facilities on the five campuses of its nursing college in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula; establishes five endowed faculty professorships to position MSU to attract top faculty talent during a nationwide nursing faculty shortage; and develops an endowed scholarship fund that will allow the nursing college to keep the cost of nursing education affordable for all students.

MSU’s nursing college, now named the Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing, provides baccalaureate-, master’s- and doctoral-educated nurses.

The endowment from St. Vincent Healthcare will help defray technology expenses for the midwifery program, as well as provide additional funding for students enrolled in the program and resources for faculty, according to Sarah Shannon, dean of the MSU Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing. Shannon noted that certified nurse midwifery education is among the most expensive in nursing education, largely because midwives are required to have first-hand clinical experience with a variety of unique birth and other care experiences rather than a flat number of clinical hours. In a rural state like Montana, this can mean substantial travel for students living in remote communities. In addition, birth manikins used in simulations are some of the most expensive to acquire, maintain and replace.

“Moms and newborns in rural communities need rapid access to specialized maternal services,” Shannon said. “Certified nurse midwives, like obstetricians, are able to assess when a mom may be in imminent risk of premature delivery, when a fetus begins to show early signs of distress, or when a pregnant woman’s general health may be at risk. Early identification and transfer to the appropriate level of care, often only available in a larger community, saves both mothers and babies lives.”

Shannon said there is a great need for more maternal health care providers in Montana, with more than half of Montana’s counties lacking an obstetric physician or nurse midwife to provide specialized maternal health care. For women living in Montana’s rural and remote counties, Shannon continued, only 66.2% receive early prenatal care compared to 77.9% for those in more urban counties. In addition, Montana currently has the sixth highest rate of maternal mortality in the U.S., and infant mortality rates in Montana exceed national norms.

But, Shannon said, there is hope: Research has shown that when mothers receive early, competent and appropriate care, their outcomes and the outcomes of their newborns are improved.

To meet the need for specialized maternal health care in Montana, particularly in the state’s rural and remote areas, Shannon said MSU’s new nurse midwifery program will produce up to 40 new certified nurse midwives by 2030.

The college expects that 80% of those graduates will stay in Montana for employment – and with a projected shortfall of 30 certified nurse midwives statewide by 2030 – the program should meet the projected shortfall of certified nurse midwives in Montana’s rural and tribal communities by 2030. Currently, Shannon said, there are only 40 certified nurse midwives in the state serving Montana’s 56 counties, with the majority practicing in Montana’s larger communities.

“Montanans value being able to raise their families in rural communities,” Shannon said. “The goal of MSU’s nursing college is to help ensure individuals and families in our frontier and rural communities have convenient access to excellent health care providers to help meet their health care needs.”

St. Vincent Healthcare has been serving the people of Montana, Wyoming and the western Dakotas for ​nearly 125 years. In addition to 12 primary care clinics in and around the Billings area, St. Vincent Healthcare is a Magnet-designated organization that offers dozens of progressive specialty services and a 286-bed hospital. St. Vincent even has a special “hospital within a hospital” just for children, St. Vincent Children’s Healthcare. St. Vincent Healthcare has more than 1,700 associates and over 500 physicians and advanced care professionals. St. Vincent Healthcare is part of the Intermountain Healthcare system. Based in Utah with locations in seven states (Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming) and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit health care system comprised of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,800 employed physicians and advanced practice providers. To help people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming health care by using evidence-based best practices to deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs consistently. To learn more about St. Vincent Healthcare, visit svh.org.

Founded in 1937, Montana State University’s Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing offers bachelor’s, accelerated bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral-level nursing education to produce nurses, nurse leaders, nurse educators and nurse practitioners for Montana. Great Falls was the first location where upper division, clinical nursing education was offered, followed by the establishment of the Billings nursing campus in 1939, Missoula campus in 1976, and Kalispell campus in 2002. While nursing majors have taken prerequisite courses in Bozeman at MSU since 1937, upper division or clinical nursing education was first offered at the Bozeman campus location in 2004.

Montana State University is the largest producer of registered nurses in Montana and is the sole provider of doctoral nurse practitioner education in the state. More information is available at montana.edu/nursing.

- by Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service -