COVID 19 has rightfully consumed our energies and attention for several months. Recent protests have brought difficult conversations to the forefront. As our attention was focused on COVID 19, a number of health inequities were highlighted. In early March the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020 was introduced by Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood, a nurse. The Act would end preventable maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity in the US, closing disparities in maternal health outcomes. No members of our House of Representatives or senators have co-sponsored this legislation as of June 19. It is H.R. 6142/S.3424
We are Iowa nurses involved in our professional organization, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) at the state and national level. AWHONN is dedicated to improving the life of women and newborns. The US has a history of great progress after major social change. The events of the last several months give us an opportunity to improve health outcomes for many, not just some. This federal legislation is an attempt to address the impact of racism that nurses observe working with families through pregnancy, childbirth, and the early days of parenting. Black women are 3 to 4 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.
The Black Maternal Health Momnibus combines bills sponsored by members of the bipartisan Black Maternal Health Caucus. The Act would end preventable maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity in the US and close disparities in maternal health outcomes. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Make critical investments in social determinants of health that influence maternal health outcomes, like housing, transportation, and nutrition.
- Provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes for Black women.
- Comprehensively study the unique maternal health risks facing women veterans, investing in VA maternity care coordination.
- Grow and diversify the perinatal workforce to ensure that every mom in America receives maternity care and support from people she can trust. Iowa ranks last in the US in ratio of OB-Gyn physicians to the number of women in the state.
- Improve data collection processes and quality measures to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis in the United States and inform solutions to address it. Accurate data ensures our interventions are working.
- Invest in maternal mental health care and substance use disorder treatments.
- Invest in digital tools like telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas. Reaching women and families in all of our counties.
- Promote innovative payment models to incentivize high-quality maternity care and continuity of health insurance coverage from pregnancy through labor and delivery and up to one year postpartum. Iowa has numerous counties without a hospital or enough physicians or mid- level providers for their population. Many studies indicate the importance of access to early prenatal care and the outcomes of the baby. We have the power to impact the lifelong health of our children.
Please make sure this opportunity to make a difference in Iowans does not pass us by. Contact your representative or senator, make your voice heard. Our moms and babies need your help!
Teresa Horak is an RN at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Sarah Copple is a Clinical Education Specialist for Maternity Services at Blank Children’s Hospital and Women’s Services. Julie Zimmerman is the Iowa AWHONN Legislative Liaison and a 41-year nurse caring for moms and babies.
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