The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services held the Faith + Works Black Maternal Health Forum on Saturday, May 21, at Texas Southern University with Houston elected officials, faith leaders, providers, doulas, midwives, community members, and more to decrease the city’s high Black maternal mortality/morbidity rate.
Houston was given an “F” rating in a 2021 report by the March of Dimes, which measured state and city metrics of maternal and infant births and disparities among pregnant people.
Based on the reporting, Harris County ranks second in the state for preterm births, more plainly infants born too early, which leads to medical complications for both the pregnant person and child.
Among all categories of infant mortality, high-risk cesarean births, and inadequate prenatal care, Black pregnant people and Black children rank the highest. Moreover, according to reports, most pregnant people’s deaths are within the first year postpartum and largely preventable.
Because of lack of equitable care, racism in the healthcare system, environmental and economic disparities, and Texas Republicans’ 12-year rejection of Medicaid expansion, Black pregnant Texans are three to four times more likely than other races to die of pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.
High-profile elected officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who has championed for years on addressing Black maternal mortality, all spoke at the forum to spotlight resources, providers, and funding to hopefully decrease the alarming statistic.
The Signal spoke with Sima Ladjevardian, Region 6 Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who said maternal health, specifically Black maternal health is a priority for the Biden Administration.
According to Ladjevardian, the administration started 35 initiatives and has invested over 470 million dollars in addressing the disparities in quality of care, investing in doula training programs, creating a maternal mental health line for pregnant people and more.
“A lot of the problem with this maternal morbidity is lack of knowledge, lack of resources, other than implicit bias and other things,” Ladjevardian said. “So we thought if we connect the hospitals, connect the resources, and connect the information to leaders of the community that can then help other people, that by itself could save so many lives.”
Black faith leaders and community organizers pledged on Saturday to help eliminate the maternal mortality rate and create the bridge between the community and resources available to pregnant Houstonians who need care.
“When I think of the alarming statistics of women dying from pregnancy in comparison to other races, it is absolutely disheartening, and you would hope that as medicine advances that these numbers would decrease,” Church Without Walls First Lady Sheretta West said. “If Roe is overturned, I’m afraid the numbers will escalate. I look to serve the woman’s mind, body, and spirit.”
While proclaiming May 21, 2022, as Maternal Health Care Day, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also said people who can’t get pregnant are responsible to change the numbers.
“As brothers, we can’t just relegate this conversation to just sisters. These are our wives, these are our mothers, these are our daughters, these are our aunts, and we all have a role to play,” Turner said. “May we give voice to a problem that shouldn’t be a problem in years to come.”
In addition to doulas and community members, Maternal Health providers from Baylor College of Medicine, Legacy Community Health, the Houston Health Department, and Harris County Public Health also emphasized the importance of finding resources and quality care.
“Most importantly is to find [a provider] someone who listens to you,” Catherine Eppes, Chief Obstetrics at the Baylor College of Medicine, said. “That’s a hard thing to assess and establish. Also, look to see where you’re going to deliver, what they have in place to handle emergencies, and if they’re prepared.”