JHF Testifies on Maternal Mortality for PA Democratic Policy Committee

Robert Ferguson testified at the PA House and Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing virtually.

During an August 12 joint virtual hearing of the PA Senate and House Democratic Policy Committee, Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) Chief Policy Officer Robert Ferguson, MPH presented remarks on further action to address maternal mortality and improve quality of care.

The United States' maternal mortality rate is three times greater than that of any other developed country, Ferguson said, noting that rates are rising across the country and in Pennsylvania. These issues are complicated by systemic racism, substance use disorder rates, and the challenges of being pregnant and giving birth during a global pandemic.

Ferguson recommended to the Committee several actions to address maternal mortality through foundational structures yet to be put in place. These include improving equitable access to doulas, modernizing licensure laws to support the midwifery workforce in Pennsylvania, analyzing how policies are facilitating or alleviating racial disparities, and building out maternal levels of care for risk appropriate care (as Pennsylvania only has five birth centers, which have received an influx of transfer requests during the COVID-19 pandemic).

These recommended actions would build on the creation of the Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC) and the Pennsylvania Perinatal Quality Collaborative (PA PQC) to improve maternal health outcomes. Housed within the Department of Health, the MMRC reviews maternal deaths, identifies root causes, and develops strategies to reduce preventable morbidity, mortality, and disparities. JHF and its operating organization, the Women's Health Activist Movement Global (WHAMglobal), administer the PA PQC, which has launched over 100 quality improvement programs to improve standards of care for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, to identify and treat maternal Opioid Use Disorder, and to adopt practices related to hemorrhage and severe hypertension. The PA PQC is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. It has grown to include 65 birth hospitals and NICUs, representing 87% of live births, and 14 health plans across the Commonwealth.

Recently, the PA PQC spotlighted the roles of doulas during COVID-19 and worked with AccessMatters to offer DOH-funded implicit bias trainings. The PA PQC is also preparing to rollout protocols to improve maternal depression screening and follow-up, and to reduce racial disparities. In July, the PA PQC launched a Maternal Depression and Racial Disparities Task Force co-chaired by Chaunda Cunningham from Healthy Start and Saleemah McNeil from Oshun Family Center.

Read more in the Daily Local News of Chester County: Testimony: Pandemic, bias worsens high death rate for US mothers

Watch a recording of the hearing on Senator Lisa Boscola's website here: Policy Committee Hearing on Innovative Responses to Maternal Mortality

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