Readout of HHS Secretary Becerra’s Roundtable on Black Maternal Health
HHS hosted a roundtable discussion to highlight the Biden-Harris Administration's commitment to improving maternal health.
To commemorate Black Maternal 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 Biden-Harris Administration's commitment to improving 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 advance 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 space. The event was moderated by Rev. Dr. Que English, Director, HHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Some of the key changemakers who participated are listed below:
- Congresswoman Robin Kelly (IL-02)
- Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, (IL-14)
- Dr. Thema Bryant, President, American Psychological Association
- Jennie Joseph, Founder and Executive Director, Commonsense Childbirth
- Aza Nedhari, Executive Director/Co-Founder, Mamatoto Village
- Alexia Doumbouya, President, CocoLife.Black
- Meredith Shockley-Smith, PhD, Executive Director, Cradle Cincinnati, and Founder, Queens Village
- Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Senior VP of Community Health & Equity, Chief Wellness & Diversity Officer, Henry Ford Health
At the top of the discussion, Secretary Becerra thanked participants and underscored the need for a whole-of-society effort to improve maternal health outcomes for Black mothers. “We’re showing people that if you really want to tackle 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 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 stressed that tackling this health crisis begins with listening to Black women and understanding how institutional racism drives these high maternal mortality rates. Dr. Thema Bryant noted that some medical students are being taught that Black women don’t experience pain at the same level as other women. And right now, we 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 deliver in the same hospital, face very different birth and postpartum outcomes – Black mothers suffer pregnancy-related deaths, many 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 underlying disparities in our health care system, to provide whole-person care to pregnant people and their families, and advance health equity across the country.
One critical action the Administration has taken to move the needle was implementing the state option to extend Medicaid’s postpartum coverage from two months to twelve months, a lifesaving opportunity made possible by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) and made permanent by 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 sponsors the MOMMA’s Act, which aims to prevent maternal mortality – helped champion this extension.
Participants who lead community organizations helped shine a light on what effective, scalable solutions can look like, and the outcomes speak for themselves.
Jennie Joseph shared that by removing barriers to care for women at higher risk for maternal mortality and morbidity, her organization has never had a mother or baby die in 25 years, and of the 1,200 patients served since 2020, only 5 babies were born premature.
Aza Nedhari remarked that her organization’s Home Visitation Program, which provides expectant and new parents with culturally congruent comprehensive home visiting services during pregnancy and postpartum, has supported over 2,000 families and has facilitated a zero percent mortality rate since 2015.
Congresswoman Underwood, champion of the Momnibus Act and longstanding advocate for advancing equity in maternal health, urged community organizations, like the ones at today’s event, to apply for funding opportunities designed to support their lifesaving work within the $471 million allocated for maternal health in President Biden’s 2023 budget.
This event builds on HHS’ significant investments in advancing Black maternal health and outcomes on the heels of last week’s announcement through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the availability of as much as $468 million in funding related to maternal child health across several programs.