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Northwell Health Center Tackles Black Maternal Health Disparities

The Center for Maternal Health aims to close gaps in Black maternal health disparities by addressing the underlying social inequities and health conditions that have contributed to high mortality rates.

Northwell Health, New York’s largest health system, has announced the launch of its Center for Maternal Health to address the rising maternal mortality rate and troubling Black maternal health disparities.

“Women in the United States face an unacceptable level of risk during pregnancy and childbirth, and the danger facing Black women is a national crisis,” Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health said in a press release. “We must do better and we can do better. Today, we are pledging to mobilize our entire health system to rectify this shameful health disparity so that Black women and their babies can flourish.”

Continuously, the United States has had the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, a health crisis largely driven by stark racial disparities. For example, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women, researchers stated.

The center aims to improve maternal healthcare, enhancing the quality of care across the continuum by addressing complications that can occur from pre-conception through the first year after delivery.

In addition, the care experience sets to address social determinants of health that increase the risk for complication mortality among Black women, said Northwell Health.

The Center for Maternal Health will offer several programs centered on enhancing care both in and out of the hospital. The center will also encompass efforts that leverage community relationships to reduce pregnancy-related dangers that are worsened by systemic inequalities.

One of the programs, the Maternal Outcomes (MOMs) Navigation program, will extend maternal care to women with high-risk pregnancies outside the typical healthcare setting between prenatal appointments or during the postpartum period.

The program also identifies obstetric patients at increased risk of complications through data-driven measures to lower referral rates. Research has shown that racial disparities in the rate of referral have restricted care access for Black women.

“We don’t wait for a referral,” said Zenobia Brown, MD, senior vice president, and associate chief medical director of Population Health at Northwell. “We use a population-health approach to identify moms who can benefit most and then remove any barriers to their care. Our mission is to provide support, advocacy, and connection to needed services, empowering women to be in charge of their own health care.”

A 20-month pilot trial showed that the MOMs Navigation program was effective at improving health outcomes; hospitalization caused by life-threatening complications decreased by 47 percent among all women and 69 percent among Black Women.

The MOMs Collaborative, another program the center offers, will provide clinicians with best practices to decrease C-section rates and reduce adverse outcomes.

“The high rate of severe maternal health problems among black women is a complex, multivariant problem, and we know it will take a complex, multilayered approach to address this health inequity,” said Michael Nimaroff, MD, who leads the MOMs Collaborative. “This is a learning process, and Northwell will continue to adapt as needed. We are in this effort for the long haul.”

Approaches to address Black maternal health disparities will require more than community-level responses, putting in policies that improve coverage, quality, and access is necessary to achieve greater health equity.

In a recent report, the Commonwealth Foundation urged policymakers to invest in primary care, insurance coverage, and social determinants of health to effectively improve healthcare for women.

Commonwealth Fund researchers also encouraged greater investment toward supporting a diverse medical workforce.

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