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Northam Announces Goal To Eliminate Maternal Mortality Racial Divide By 2025

Black women in Virginia are much more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has announced a new goal of eliminating that racial disparity statewide by 2025. He says that equates to a reduction of more than 50% in the maternal mortality rate for black women.

That means a lot for Stephanie Spencer, founder, and director of Richmond non-profit Urban Baby Beginnings. The group works with new and soon-to-be new moms. Spencer says a lot of black women she works with are afraid of dying.

“That’s one of their big concerns,” Spencer said. “And that should never be. You should never have to walk around in fear that you’re going to lose your life or your baby’s life. Because that impacts your pregnancy. Because we’re telling moms ‘you should be happy that you’re pregnant.’ Yet you go to the news and you hear that moms and babies are dying. How am I supposed to feel about that as a mom?”

She says Medicaid expansion has been a big help in making sure more moms have access to care. Before January 1, low-income pregnant women only received coverage while they were pregnant and 60 days postpartum.

“Today, women in the expansion population receive continuous coverage,” Northam said. “Overall, the major risk factors identified for pregnancy-associated deaths in Virginia are chronic conditions."

Northam has directed Virginia’s Medicaid agency to expedite enrollment of eligible pregnant women.

“That’s our number one priority right now,” said Dr. Jennifer Lee, director of Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services. ”And I think it’s exactly the right initiative because we know by looking at numbers that Medicaid is a health insurance program for mostly children. And how do we make sure that every child has a healthy start? We’ve gotta start with mom.”

Northam has also asked the state department of health to explore ways to increase training for healthcare workers on implicit bias and cultural competency.

“One of the things we’re really focusing on is diversity in our providers: whether that be healthcare providers, whether that be teachers,” Northam said.

Legislation taking effect July 1 will allow a state maternal mortality review team to access better data. Another law will require maternity care providers to educate women about perinatal anxiety.

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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