Members in Action Case Study: Creating a Community Net for Vulnerable Women and Children

Mercy Health Fort Smith
Fort Smith, Ark.


Mercy Health Fort Smith delivers approximately 2,500 babies annually. The hospital’s diverse patient population presents opportunities to minister in unique ways to families. In this organization’s region, drug addiction, domestic violence and post-partum depression are a significant struggle among pregnant women, so the hospital’s leaders decided to address those issues directly.

Initially, hospital leaders identified health needs of critically ill newborns and met them by seeking Level IIIa designation for the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They then branched out to meet social and emotional needs of families by designing programs that extended beyond inpatient settings.

Services include:

  • NICU – Opened in 2008, the IIIa-designated NICU cares for 500 babies a year ages 24 weeks gestation and beyond. This changed the face of antepartum and peripartum care in Fort Smith by keeping mothers and babies close to home instead of transporting them to Little Rock or Tulsa.
  • Ronald McDonald House (RMH) – Opened in 2010, RMH is a bridge between home and the NICU for parents. Since its opening, it has served more than 3,200 families, with an average of more than 400 families per year.
  • Catherine’s Light – Established in 2017, Catherine’s Light seeks to address postpartum adjustment challenges, behavioral health needs, and addiction in the childbearing years. It also includes a New Moms Support group in Spanish that meets once a week, led by a counselor and a nurse.

As part of the Catherine’s Light program, Mercy brought in a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) to the OB/GYN clinic to work hand-in-hand with the physicians to address behavioral health needs and addiction. When a physician identifies a patient who would benefit from behavioral health/social work services, that patient goes directly to the LCSW to be seen that day. The LCSW also goes to Labor and Delivery to check on walk-in patients.


“As we know, there’s a stigma attached to mental health,” says Tina Stell, director of operations. “If the patient leaves our clinic with a referral to mental health services, there’s a good chance she may not get that treatment. With the LCSW embedded in our clinic, we’re able to maintain their privacy as much as possible.”

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