MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The University of Tennessee has halted programs in Memphis and Chattanooga aimed at reducing infant mortality rates amid an internal audit.
The Memphis program, called The Blues Project, was started seven years ago by the UT Health Science Center to address the city's high death rate among infants. There are about 100 women and teenagers currently enrolled in the program, which has aided about 1,000 people to date, according to The Commercial Appeal.
It was expanded to Chattanooga, which also has a high infant mortality rate, last year with a $1.7 million grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation.
Kimberly Lamar directs the Memphis program and says she didn't know about its suspension until a health clinic called her Monday. Pregnant teens and women continued showing up at local health clinics Monday, but were turned away.
"If they cared about these women, they wouldn't have just terminated services immediately," Lamar said. "What about these moms? What about these babies?
"Some of these women have domestic-violence issues," Lamar added. "They depend on my staff."
UT Health Science Center spokeswoman Sheila Champlin confirmed the program suspension, calling it regrettable but unavoidable.
"It's really to preserve the scientific integrity of the study and to answer questions about the execution of the study," Champlin said.
The program provided education, counseling and support to pregnant teens, mothers and fathers. It helped expectant mothers reduce stress, access prenatal care and become independent.
The program also referred women to other community resources for problems such as domestic violence and depression. Its workers followed mothers from pregnancy until children reached age 2.