Operationalizing risk-appropriate perinatal care in a rural US State: directions for policy and practice

Carly Holman, Annie Glover, Kaitlin Fertaly, Megan Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Risk-appropriate care improves outcomes by ensuring birthing people and infants receive care at a facility prepared to meet their needs. Perinatal regionalization has particular importance in rural areas where pregnant people might not live in a community with a birthing facility or specialty care. Limited research focuses on operationalizing risk-appropriate care in rural and remote settings. Through the implementation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Levels of Care Assessment Tool (LOCATe), this study assessed the system of risk-appropriate perinatal care in Montana. Methods: Primary data was collected from Montana birthing facilities that participated in the CDC LOCATe version 9.2 (collected July 2021 – October 2021). Secondary data included 2021 Montana birth records. All birthing facilities in Montana received an invitation to complete LOCATe. LOCATe collects information on facility staffing, service delivery, drills, and facility-level statistics. We added additional questions on transport. Results: Nearly all (96%) birthing facilities in Montana completed LOCATe (N = 25). The CDC applied its LOCATe algorithm to assign each facility with a level of care that aligns directly with guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM). LOCATe-assessed levels for neonatal care ranged from Level I to Level III. Most (68%) facilities LOCATe-assessed at Level I or lower for maternal care. Close to half (40%) self-reported a higher-level of maternal care than their LOCATe-assessed level, indicating that many facilities believe they have greater capacity than outlined in their LOCATe-assessed level. The most common ACOG/SMFM requirements contributing to the maternal care discrepancies were the lack of obstetric ultrasound services and a physician anesthesiologist. Conclusions: The Montana LOCATe results can drive broader conversations on the staffing and service requirements necessary to provide high-quality obstetric care in low-volume rural hospitals. Montana hospitals often rely on Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) for anesthesia services and telemedicine to access specialty providers. Integrating a rural health perspective into the national guidelines could enhance the utility of LOCATe to support state strategies to improve the provision of risk-appropriate care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number601
Pages (from-to)601
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 8 2023


  • LOCATe
  • Obstetrics
  • Perinatal regionalization
  • Risk-appropriate care
  • Rural
  • Transport
  • Policy
  • Parturition
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health Services
  • Perinatal Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Health Facilities
  • Female
  • Child
  • Infant, Newborn


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