Virginia releases plans to cut the mortality rate for Black mothers

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has released a plan that hopes to eliminate racial disparities in maternal deaths by 2025.

It is called the Maternal Health Strategic Plan and has been a steady project for the Northam administration since it was announced by the governor in 2019.

Like much of the U.S., Virginia’s maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is more than double that of white mothers. The mortality rate for Black mothers in the state was 36 per 100,000 compared to 11 per 100,000 for white women.

Black mothers were also more likely to report chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and depression, that can increase the mortality rate. The Maternal Health Strategic Plan also states Black women were “more likely to report experiencing discrimination or harassment due to their race/ethnicity or insurance or Medicaid status.”

“Our Administration remains fully committed to pursuing policies that ensure equitable access to health care for Black, Indigenous and other women of color,” Northam said in a news release. “This plan is the culmination of more than a year of work with diverse stakeholders and provides a road map with actionable recommendations for creating the systemic change necessary to achieve our goal of eliminating racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes in Virginia by 2025.”

Northam will funnel millions to programs in order to cut down on maternal deaths.

The plan calls for a focus on six strategies to address the racial disparities: insurance coverage, health care setting, criminal justice and child welfare response, community-based services, contraception and data collection.

Some of the 21 recommendations include increasing access to health insurance, expanding education for expectant women on the complex health care system surrounding pregnancy and offering access to affordable contraception. About 50% of pregnancies in Virginia are unplanned.

The plan also recommends the elimination of what the reports calls “maternity care deserts.”

The state plans to establish a maternity care workforce pipeline that is more diverse. The plan also calls for cutting red tape when it comes to midwives within the traditional hospital system or the less traditional settings, such as birthing centers and home births.

Health officials found that the second leading cause of pregnancy-associated death among Black women is homicide, showing significant racial disparities in the family and intimate partner homicide rate.

The plan calls for policy changes when pregnant or postpartum women of color interact with the criminal justice system.

Interaction with the criminal justice system also affected expectant women of color from seeking medical care. During a survey conducted around the state women reported avoiding care because of fear of health care providers reporting substance use disorder and family violence to law enforcement or child services.

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