Health Foundation Invests in Rural Maternal Health Care Through New Approach to OB/GYN Staffing at Universal Primary Care

Investing in Rural Maternal Health

(BUFFALO, NY) The Health Foundation for Western & Central New York has awarded a grant of $100,000 to Universal Primary Care, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Cattaraugus County, to support a new approach to strengthening obstetric and gynecological (OB/GYN) services.

The funds are part of a larger fundraising effort led by UPC that will allow the FQHC to reimagine how they staff and support the OB/GYN service line. UPC, like many rural health providers across New York and the U.S., is dealing with the impact of health care workforce shortages. Currently, UPC employs only one full-time OB/GYN, putting them at risk of staff burnout and being unable to meet the maternal and reproductive health needs of the community they serve.

According to the March of Dimes, as of 2022, Cattaraugus County had the lowest access to maternal care in western New York and was the only county in the region categorized as having “moderate access” to maternal care rather than full access. FQHCs like UPC play a critical role in meeting the health care needs of rural areas like Cattaraugus County by providing care for all patients regardless of their ability to pay.

The funds will enable UPC to take proactive steps to preserve and grow OB/GYN services in the community, including the hiring of a nationally-recognized organizational consultant. The new approach, which may include a “Hospitalist OB Program” in conjunction with the leadership of Olean General Hospital, aims to create a healthier work environment, reduce burnout, and increase the likelihood of hiring and retaining clinical staff. UPC is seeking additional funders to support this effort.

Since the release of the 2022 March of Dimes report, two other counties in western New York—Wyoming and Niagara—have lost hospital obstetric services.

The state of OB/GYN services in western New York mirrors national trends. March of Dimes reports that 36 percent of counties in the United States are considered maternity care deserts, meaning the demand for maternity care is greater than the supply of OB-GYNs. These shortages have an impact, among many other factors, on maternal and infant health outcomes. In 2022, the U.S. infant mortality rate grew three percent, marking the biggest increase in 20 years.

The Health Foundation launched Transform Rural Health in 2022, a campaign to raise awareness and support for the health disparities facing rural counties in western and central New York.

“Our ability to help meet patient needs, especially for pregnant women, at critical times and close to their homes is in jeopardy. We want to preserve access to women’s health care right here in our community,” said Brett Lawton, Chief Executive Officer, Universal Primary Care. “This support from the Health Foundation is extremely helpful and timely to help us preserve and grow access to critical women’s health services.”

“Everyone deserves access to high-quality health care, but maternal care shortages force patients to either travel long distances to see their doctors, or to forgo care entirely, making them more susceptible to poor birth outcomes,” said Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD, President, Health Foundation for Western & Central New York. “We applaud our grantee-partners at Universal Primary Care for taking this issue head-on with a long term, holistic approach to solve staffing issues and make Cattaraugus County a safer place to give birth.”


The Health Foundation for Western & Central New York is an independent private foundation that advocates for continuous improvement in health and health care for the people and communities of Western and Central New York. The Health Foundation’s vision is a healthy central and western New York where racial and socioeconomic equity are prioritized so all people can reach their full potential and achieve equitable health outcomes. For more information, please visit