Perinatal Health Equity Champions Program Links Traditional Birth Services and St. Clair Hospital

Shawndel Laughner and Selena Eisenberg meet with hospital staff.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Women's Health Activist Movement global (WHAMglobal) facilitated a collaborative project through the Perinatal Health Equity Champions Program between Igi Osé – Traditional Birth Services and St. Clair Hospital's Labor and Delivery Unit titled "Community Doulas: A Hospital's Least Tapped Resource."

The Champions Program is a year-long engagement model designed to build capacity in the birthing workforce to help address racial disparities and improve maternal health care in the Pittsburgh region. The Champions Program builds trusted working relationships among community and hospital birth workers in which common goals drive solutions to holistic care, strengthen continuity of care, and bridge resources across the maternal care continuum. The Perinatal Health Equity Champions program is facilitated by Pittsburgh: A Safer Childbirth City, WHAMglobal, and JHF.

Of the program, community birth worker Selena Eisenberg, Midwife, CLD, CPD and former Salk Fellow, said it provided her a window into the systematic differences between hospital-based and community-based work, fostering a deeper understanding of the hospital system, how to convey the structure of hospital systems to clients, and to provide an opportunity to impact the lives of birthing people.

"Creating individualized programming [for St. Clair] has been an amazing learning opportunity for me. Hearing the lived experiences of providers and how it has impacted their feelings about and interactions with doulas and community birth workers has made me more understanding. As important as policies are, they don't change how individual people feel about the role of doulas. I have adjusted my approach and my client education with a more individualized lens. Meeting hospital providers where they are instead of meeting them where the hospital system's policies and procedures are," Eisenberg said.

Shawndel Laughner, MHA, BSN, CNML, RNC-OB, C-ONQS, C-EFM, director of women and children's services at St. Clair Hospital said through the Perinatal Health Equity Champions program, the system partnered with Eisenberg to educate its staff on the role of a doula and their scope of practice.

"This [customized] session is an essential and comprehensive dive into what community birth workers bring to the table and why engaging with them makes birthing people experience fewer traumatic experiences and have positive outcomes," Laughner said. "The goal is to make our staff confident in their ability to engage community birth attendants and foster a positive working relationship, creating a better patient birth experience."

Laughner added that they are in the very early stages of planning a Doula Open House for the community, with the vision of birthing families meeting a variety of community and concierge doulas to find out the benefits of doula care throughout the continuum of pregnancy.

"This Champions program has been an amazing experience to connect healthcare organizations and community birth workers to join forces to enhance the birth outcomes for the families we serve," Laughner said.

The work of the Perinatal Health Champion Program, along with Pittsburgh: A Safer Childbirth City partners, will be shared at the Safer Childbirth City Finale on October 19th highlighting how community-based and healthcare organizations are helping to improve Black maternal health outcomes in Pittsburgh. 

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