$27M gift to MedStar Health helps expand initiative to improve health of women, babies in DC

African American women are up to three times more likely to die of pregnancy related-causes than white women, and infant mortality in D.C. is among the highest in the nation.

A newly-expanded initiative is targeting those high mortality rates.

The D.C. Safe Babies Safe Moms Initiative takes a holistic, integrative approach.

“Forty percent of one’s health outcomes come from what’s called the social determinants of health,” said Dr. Angela Thomas with the MedStar Health Research Institute.

Some of those factors can include education, poverty, transportation, food insecurity and domestic violence.

“For a lot of people, when you address those social determinants of health, those health outcomes get better,” Thomas said.

But, she noted some studies reveal there is still a disparity in morbidity or mortality — even among affluent and/or educated African American women — because another social determinant of health is racism and discrimination.

“If we don’t handle the underlying root cause of things like implicit bias and lack of culturally competent training and care delivery, then we still won’t move that needle,” Thomas said.

The $27 million philanthropic investment by the Clark Foundation to expand the program is the largest philanthropic gift ever made to MedStar Health.

“At the heart of this incredible initiative is the opportunity to create patient experiences that feel coherent, cohesive, and integrated. We can achieve true, long-lasting positive health outcomes through holistic and multi-generational approaches for our patients and their families,” said Dr. Matthew Biel, MD, Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, in a news release.

“This means also focusing our work to support the mental health of children and parents, particularly in the context of adversity and trauma. Our focus is on caring for the whole person, including attention to their physical, emotional, and behavioral well-being, and promoting a sense of security and stability,” Biel said.

Thomas also notes the program puts a strong focus on sharing research “so that others can learn from the initiative.”

“Not just within the District but nationally,” she said. “Learn what worked, what didn’t work — what are some elements that must be in the program in order for those communities to also move the needle on maternal and infant mortality.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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