BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — UAB’s School of Nursing has received nearly $9 million in a federal grant to increase access to maternity care across Alabama.

UAB’s Nurse-Family Partnership of Central Alabama was awarded $8.8 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the funds come at a critical time. In the last week, two central Alabama medical centers have ended their OB programs.

Alabama has the worst rate of maternal mortality in the country, according to an August report from the non-profit research organization the Milken Institute.

“This is a chronic issue that we have in our state, and we’re hoping that these funds and activities will be able to really impact that in a positive way,” said Candace Knight, Ph.D., director of the Nurse-Family Partnership of Central Alabama.

The Nurse-Family Partnership program partners nurses with women and families facing economic or social challenges. The nurses visit the women in their homes and communities during pregnancy and until the baby turns two.

The grant will help the program expand its services, such as home visits, midwifery and behavioral healthcare, into 27 additional counties across the state over the next five years.

“I think it’s really important that we are getting this at this time when we’re seeing shrinking of maternity care services, particularly in the rural parts of our state, this is going to increase access to care,” Knight said.