Centene's Neonatal Center of Excellence Transforms Health of Tiniest Members
Centene’s Neonatal Center of Excellence is dedicated to supporting the health of pregnant mothers and infants.
The Center leads best practices across Centene to enhance neonatal care and address the medical, social and financial needs of those at high risk for having a baby born prematurely and/or critically ill.
Dr. Daniel Bruzzini, the Center’s Medical Director, said approximately 3.7 million babies are born in the United States each year. Nearly 10% to 15% of these infants are admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“As the largest Medicaid provider, Centene cares for about 260,000 infants annually. This brings a great opportunity and responsibility to help families have healthy babies,” he said.
Dr. Bruzzini is a practicing neonatologist and an American Association of Physician Leadership certified Physician Executive. He is also a U.S. Air Force Colonel who served 25 years as a flight surgeon and Medical Director. After retiring from the Air Force, he served as Medical Director for a multi-state neonatology practice group.
“When a mom with severe hypertension, substance misuse and no prenatal visits delivered a 25-week baby, I was there to help the family,” he said. “But I could not prevent the problems the baby will face due to extreme prematurity. Prenatal visits, behavioral health services and medicine for hypertension would have likely kept the baby in the best NICU — his/her mother’s womb.”
Dr. Bruzzini joined Centene’s Missouri health plan, Home State Health, as Medical Director in 2019 and began developing the companywide Neonatal Center of Excellence in 2021.
At a local level, care teams support members and address risk factors, including medical conditions, insufficient prenatal visits, substance misuse and social determinants of health. Additionally, they ensure health inequities and member choice are addressed in a variety of ways such as use of in-person and virtual doula services. “This is a comprehensive, integrated team of Medical Directors, Utilization Management and Care Management nurses meeting our members where they are with understanding and compassion,” Dr. Bruzzini said.
The teams also collaborate with physician and hospital partners when a member’s baby is admitted to a NICU to improve quality of care and decrease length of stay.
Once the babies are home, ensuring they receive proper nutrition is a key focus. Care Managers connect new moms to formula and breastfeeding resources, including breast pumps, doulas and lactation support.
During the recent formula shortage, Centene worked at a local and national level so families could access formula without delay. This included ensuring specialty formulas were reaching babies with medical needs in a timely manner and finding nearby stores with formula in stock.
Dr. Bruzzini and John Kaelin, Centene Senior Vice President of Government Relations, also provided guidance during the formula shortage to policy makers at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House.
A new initiative underway to improve the health of premature babies across the country is Centene’s Neonatal Center of Excellence Diamond Designation. The program encourages NICUs to have the American Academy of Pediatrics verify they have the necessary equipment, support and quality for their best level of neonatal intensive care.
“Our Neonatal Center of Excellence represents our commitment to mothers and babies,” Dr. Bruzzini said. “By achieving the highest standards, Centene sets the goal for the rest of the industry to follow.”