HHS Secretary Becerra Roundtable Reading on Black Maternal Health

HHS hosted a roundtable to highlight the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to improving maternal health.

To mark Black Mothers’ Health Week (April 11-17), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra hosted a roundtable discussion on Monday, April 17, 2023, to highlight the administration’s commitment to Biden-Harris to Improve Maternal Health Outcomes for Black Americans. Among other topics, the group discussed best practices and innovative models used to improve maternal and infant health outcomes and improve equity.

Secretary Becerra was joined by approximately 100 stakeholders for this event – ​​including faith leaders, advocates, providers, public health officials, and corporate leaders in the maternal health field. The event was moderated by Rev. Dr. Que English, Director, HHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Some of the key change agents involved are listed below:

  • Congressman Robin Kelly (IL-02)
  • Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, (IL-14)
  • Dr. Tema Bryant, President of the American Psychological Association
  • Jenny Joseph, Founder and CEO, Commonsense Childbirth
  • Aza Nedhari, Executive Director/Co-Founder, Mamatoto Village
  • Alexia Dumbuya, President, CocoLife.Black
  • Meredith Shockley-Smith, PhD, Executive Director, Cradle Cincinnati and Founder, Queens Village
  • Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Senior Vice President of Health and Community Equity, Chief Health and Diversity Officer, Henry Ford Health

At the start of the discussion, Secretary Becerra thanked the participants and emphasized the need for a community-wide effort to improve health outcomes for black mothers. “We’re showing people that if you really want to address some of these disparities that have existed for the longest time in this country, you don’t have to turn things upside down, you don’t have to reinvent what we know, that it works – but you also don’t have to pretend it doesn’t exist. All you have to do is get to work.”

Dr. Meredith Shockley-Smith emphasized that addressing this health crisis begins with listening to black women and understanding how institutional racism leads to these high rates of maternal mortality. Dr. Tema Bryant noted that some medical students are taught that black women do not experience pain at the same level as other women. And we currently live in a country where a white woman and a black woman who live in the same zip code, who are in a playgroup together and give birth in the same hospital, face very different birth and postpartum outcomes – black mothers suffer pregnancy-related deaths, many of which are preventable, at a rate three times higher compared to white mothers, regardless of education and income level.

Secretary Becerra emphasized that the Biden Harris administration is using every lever available to address the fundamental inequities in our health care system, provide comprehensive care for pregnant people and their families, and improve health equity across the country.

One critical action the administration took to move the needle was implementing the state’s option to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to twelve months, a life-saving option made possible by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) and made permanent of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (CAA, 2023), which President Biden signed into law earlier this year. So far, 31 states and DC have signed on. Congresswoman Kelly—who also sponsored the MOMMA Act, which aims to prevent maternal mortality—helped advocate for that extension.

Participants who lead community organizations helped shine a light on what effective, scalable solutions can look like, and the results speak for themselves.

Jenny Joseph shared that by removing barriers to care for women at higher risk of maternal mortality and morbidity, her organization never a mother or baby died for 25 years, and of the 1,200 patients served since 2020, only 5 babies have been born prematurely.

Aza Nedhari noted that her organization’s Home Visiting Program, which provides expectant and new parents with culturally appropriate comprehensive home visiting services during pregnancy and postpartum, has supported over 2,000 families and has facilitated a zero death rate from 2015

Congressman Underwood, a champion of the Momnibus Act and a longtime advocate for advancing maternal health equity, urged community organizations like those at today’s event to apply for funding opportunities designed to support their life-saving work within the $471 million allocated for maternal health in President Biden’s 2023 budget.

This event builds on HHS’ significant investment in improving Black maternal health and results following last week’s announcement through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the availability of a total of $468 million in funding related to maternal and child health in several programs.

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