In the United States, maternal health outcomes have reached crisis levels — and they’re only getting worse. Severe Maternal Morbidity (SMM) has steadily increased in recent years and the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among all developed countries. However, the impact is not equal across all populations. Black mothers experience preterm birth rates about 49% higher than those who are white or Hispanic and they are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth.
As reducing maternal health disparities is a crucial piece of improving outcomes, efforts to create culturally tailored support is vital to help meet the needs of Black mothers and their babies. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to changing these outcomes — it requires a multi-faceted approach. This is often achieved by partnering at the local level with organizations led by and focused on birthing people of color. With this understanding that unmet social and safety needs can contribute to poor outcomes, community-based organizations often provide critical services and supports to mothers and their families.
UnitedHealthcare has provided funding aimed at helping to improve maternal health outcomes, by expanding community capacity to provide wraparound care that addresses the complex social needs of the Medicaid population:
For example, in Mississippi, UnitedHealthcare invested $40,000 in the Delta Health Alliance to promote their work in supplying baby items and the creation of a women’s advisory council.
In Ohio, a $28,000 grant to Black Lactation Circle helps serve the greater Columbus area to expand breastfeeding supports and address social determinants of health.
More than $276,000 in maternal health grants went to six community-based organizations in Tennessee in an effort to expand access to care for high-risk mothers with support that continues after birth. This includes providing essential baby care items, support for housing, food and clothing plus expanded doula services and breastfeeding support.
UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan awarded $75,000 to organizations focused on improving maternal and infant health outcomes and combating addiction. This includes grants to:
Birth Detroit to provide postpartum support by midwives including referral to a provider when needed, transportation and childbirth education to those with a low-risk pregnancy
Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association to support a community-based doula training class for increased access for expectant mothers
“We are honored to support organizations that focus on improving the health of our communities by increasing access to essential care,” said Dennis Mouras, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan.
A growing body of evidence shows that continuous doula support may improve key perinatal health outcomes – such as lower preterm and cesarean birth rates. To better support the capacity of a doula organization in Virginia, Urban Baby Beginnings received a $250,000 UnitedHealthcare grant in order to help train 250 community doulas of color and provide additional training to 150 doulas of color who are currently certified and practicing. This helps support diversification of the doula workforce and enhance the availability of culturally specific care.
Doulas have been shown to improve clinical outcomes, including lower cesareans, fewer negative birth experiences and more. Several states are looking at providing doula support as part of a spectrum of maternal care.
While no single innovation or effort can address the complex nature of racial inequities in maternal health, the collective impact of these evidence-based measures may help provide a roadmap to improved outcomes.