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Delving into data: BSU student plays key role in research related to substance-exposed pregnancies in Bemidji area

Kelly Campbell, who graduates this spring with a major in community health and a minor in psychology, was part of a team from Sanford Research-Sioux Falls and Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota that conducted a study, “The Epidemiology of Substance-Exposed Pregnancies in the Bemidji Area.” MAGGI STIVERS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI — As Sanford Research undertook a study to examine the prevalence of substance-exposed pregnancies in Bemidji, a BSU student played a key role in the project.

Kelly Campbell, who graduates in spring with a major in community health and a minor in psychology, was part of a team from Sanford Research-Sioux Falls and Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota that conducted the study, “The Epidemiology of Substance-Exposed Pregnancies in the Bemidji Area.”

Campbell presented preliminary results of the study Wednesday during the 15th annual Student Scholarship and Creative Achievement Conference at BSU, which featured the work of more than 120 students in nearly 60 presentations.

The study was led by Dr. Jessica Hanson with Sanford Research in Sioux Falls, S.D., who previously worked with American Indian communities in South Dakota to examine maternal-child health issues, including projects related to fetal alcohol syndrome prevention.

Hanson, in a phone interview with the Pioneer on Wednesday afternoon, said the study arose from a request from local physicians and nurses who believed they were seeing a higher than average number of substance-exposed women delivering babies in Bemidji.

But they didn’t have the data, so Sanford Research was brought in to gather the figures. That data, which Hason described as the “starting point,” will soon be presented to local providers to consider future efforts to lower those rates.

“We don’t just collect data, we take it to the next step,” Hanson said. “We develop interventions, we develop programming, and it’s all community based.”

James White, BSU associate professor of human performance, sport and health, approached Campbell with the research opportunity, along with Jill Oberfell, a registered nurse going back to school to obtain a community health degree.

“I wanted … students who could handle the rigor of trying to look at a chart for 20 minutes, 400 of them,” White said, noting, too, that Campbell is highly organized.

After going through training with Sanford Health, Campbell and Oberfell worked to carefully examine 402 files with at least one of nine codes that indicated the women were exposed to at least one substance during their pregnancies.

“Studies have shown that substance use during pregnancy can have a detrimental affect on the fetus,” Campbell said. “We wanted to look at alcohol exposure, tobacco and illicit drugs.”

Campbell examined the files, pulled from more than 1,000 births at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center in 2012.

“I would go to the hospital, and the record department, they would bring me five to 10 charts at a time,” she said. “We would meticulously go through each of those charts, page by page. Each chart would take probably 20 to 30 minutes … our job was to pick out the relevant data for the study and put it into a computer database.”

In regards to demographics, they found:

• 58 percent of the women exposed to substances were between the ages of 20 and 29, and 17 percent were 19-years-old or younger.

• 15 percent were employed full-time; 18 percent stayed home; and 15 percent were students.

• 16 percent had not graduated high school; 11 percent had. In 64 percent of the files, that information was not available.

• 12 percent were white and 39 percent were American Indian. In 48 percent of the cases, the information was not available.

On the types of substances exposed to the women, the team found:

• 76 percent were smoking cigarettes

• 42 percent were using illicit drugs

• 4 percent were drinking alcohol.

However, Campbell suggested that the rate of alcohol use may be higher. Alcohol use in pregnancy was self-reported, which was an admitted limitation of the study.

“Alcohol use could be underreported because of the cultural stigma that’s associated with alcohol use during pregnancy,” she said.

For illicit drugs, the data came from blood tests ordered when risk factors were observed by hospital staff.

Compilation and analysis of the data still is underway. Hanson, in South Dakota, said the results will be shared with Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota to consider whether new interventions and programming would be beneficial.

After similar research was conducted in reservations in South Dakota, Hanson said there now is programming in place working to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies by focusing on those women who are not yet pregnant but living in ways that put them at risk for such a pregnancy.

“All of this data still needs to be presented back to the (Bemidji) hospital, and we’ll be working with them to make recommendations,” she said. “This is baseline data to develop an intervention, to utilize it for a bigger purpose. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Herself, Campbell said the work was enlightening and highly beneficial.

“I was just absolutely blessed and thankful to be able to be part of this study,” she said. “This was my practicum internship and as a major of community health, this was such a great opportunity for me, to see the importance of having good data in order to base your programs on. I was able to be on the ground floor to learn all of this.”

The study, and her upcoming graduation, caps off big changes for the Grand Rapids resident. After cultivating a career in business, she was laid off from her job with a Grand Rapids-based construction company and decided to attend BSU.

“I went back to school. I wanted to change my life and I decided on community health,” she said.

Campbell has now been hired as the site coordinator for Project Care, the free clinic based in Grand Rapids. She begins shortly after graduation.

“Being a part of all this has helped me so much,” Campbell said of the study.

And it apparently has benefited Sanford Research, as well. Hanson said it was a “wonderful experience” working with Campbell and BSU. She believes future, similar partnerships will occur.

“We couldn’t have done this without our collaboration with BSU and the students there,” Hanson said. “I had really great partners for this project.”