College of Health faculty research not only bolsters undergraduate and graduate students’ education and their futures in healthcare service, but strives to highlight potential gaps in access to health services, address stigmas and propose a range of advancements from infrastructure to specific health practices and procedures. One such researcher is Dr. Kalyn Renbarger, who is in her 14th year at Ball State as an Assistant Professor of Nursing. Her research focus and area of teaching are on maternal-child health—specifically maternal mental health, maternal mortality, and substance abuse.
Dr. Renbarger received her undergraduate degree from Ball State in 2001, going on to work as an RN at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital and Riley Children’s Hospital. She earned a master’s degree from Ball State in 2001 and her PhD from Indiana University in 2020.
Largely due to disparities in access to prenatal care and stigmas related to substance abuse, Indiana patients can be at risk for pregnancy-related mortality or may experience complications postpartum. According to a 2022 report on Indiana maternal mortality in 2020, substance abuse disorder was the highest contributing factor to pregnancy-associated deaths in Indiana, and 79% of those deaths were preventable.
In 2021, with a grant from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Dr. Renbarger partnered with the Muncie Maternal Mental Health Coalition. Her and her research team developed a program for women experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders to receive peer support. Doctoral students received field experience in facilitating group counseling sessions for postpartum mental health. Patients experienced decreased depression symptoms and largely benefitted from the support of a peer specialist in the perinatal period.
Stigmas and biases of nursing students toward postpartum patients with substance abuse disorders is a significant barrier to improving maternal healthcare and preventative measures. Dr. Renbarger is currently working with a class of undergraduate students to address this stigma. During the Fall 2023 semester, the class conducted a qualitative study that indicated these biases, and this Spring semester will assess student attitudes towards mothers during the nursing program. She hopes to use these results to develop ways to address this stigma early in students’ nursing careers, preventing any barriers to necessary and life-saving care.
Looking ahead, Dr. Renbarger hopes to expand maternal and mental health services to rural areas not just in Delaware County but surrounding areas. A bit further from home, Dr. Renbarger received a grant to spend Summer 2024 in Uganda to address the shortage of healthcare providers and advancing healthcare programming. The College of Health is excited to see Dr. Renbarger continue to make advancements and improve maternal health care in the Muncie community and beyond.