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Federal, state funding shines light on maternal mortality rates, which are 3.5 times higher in Black women

Gov. Mike DeWine allocated millions to grassroots organizations
Posted at 6:02 PM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 23:20:00-05

CLEVELAND — It's a grim statistic — the United States has the highest maternal death rate of any industrialized nation. To address that, the White House held its first-ever "Maternal Health Day of Action."

Vice President Kamala Harris started the summit with a statement about where the country needs to go.

"This challenge is urgent and it is important," Harris said.

She issued the call to action for state and federal leaders.

"When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, these systemic inequities can be a matter of life and death," she said.

In Ohio, 610 women had pregnancy-related deaths from 2008 through 2016. The data was collected by the Ohio Department of Health. Many more suffer serious complications. Data from the National Institutes of Health show that death rates are 3.5 times higher for Black women than for white women.

Local advocates say the steps taken by Washington are what is needed right now.

"That was really great because they were saying the quiet things out loud," said Jazmin Long with Birthing Beautiful Communities. "They were really speaking about racism. They were really talking about the impact and the role that racism does play in infant and maternal morbidity."

For Long, the maternal mortality rate - the rate of mothers dying in the 12 months after giving birth - is too high.

"We are now in a society where we are open and willing to hear that racism is a thing that is causing maternal and infant death," she said.

"We have to do something different," said Veranda Rodgers, the founder of Pregnant with Possibilities Resource Center. And with recent action from the state, Rodgers said she can see that something different is happening.

"People may be starting to get it just a little bit," she said. Earlier this month, millions of dollars in grant money from the state was given out to not just large healthcare organizations but grassroots ones, like hers.

"It's absolutely time to work," Rodgers said.

In total, 44 organizations received funding. While advocates look at this funding as a good first step, they are looking at the entire picture, which includes what is being taught in medical and nursing schools.

"Despite my medical training, I didn't learn about the different elements of medical racism until I got into this area," said Dr. Heather Rice, an assistant professor at Cleveland State University's school of nursing.

Rice works with both Pregnant Possibilities Resource Center and Birthing Beautiful Communities. Now, she said, is the time to teach new medical professionals about implicit bias, "because they are ultimately going to be taking care of these clients and they need to know how they feel about those experiences."

Cleveland State University received more than $900,000 in funding from the state to continue work focused on maternal healthcare.

Federal money is part of the Build Back Better Plan, which is awaiting approval by the U.S. Senate.