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Optimizing health for NE Ohio women, babies

Childbirth in the U.S. can be dangerous, compared with other developed nations. Roughly every 12 hours a woman dies of a pregnancy-related cause, and 60 percent of these causes are preventable. In addition, many babies continue to be born too early, too small or too sick to go home with their families.

These alarming statistics are why our affiliated health plans, which members account for 11 percent of our nation’s births, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, are at the forefront of improving maternal and infant health, especially in communities of color where health disparities have a dramatic impact on outcomes. We are working here in Ohio and across the country, hand in hand with community partners, to drive change.

Most recently, our foundation committed nearly $15 million nationwide, including $740,000 in Ohio, to support maternal health initiatives that could impact up to 100,000 women. Each initiative will focus on one or more of the following goals: reducing preterm birth rates, reducing maternal morbidity and mortality, and reducing primary cesarean rate. These grants are part of up to $30 million the foundation plans to invest over the next three years to improve maternal health outcomes — generating measurable impact, particularly for socially vulnerable populations.

We know babies of black moms, and black moms themselves, are more likely to die in pregnancy. Infant mortality rates in northeast Ohio are three to five times higher for black babies than white babies. To ensure funding reaches the communities in which it is needed most, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is placing an emphasis on programs specifically working to create equity in maternal health care. We are focusing on programs that address racial disparities and biases, address health-related social needs, remove barriers to care and drive specific measurable maternal and child health outcomes.

We believe that a happy and healthy baby begins with a happy and healthy mother. As more attention is brought to maternal health disparities and maternal care, our foundation continues to work with our community partners across Ohio including CelebrateOne, Kent State University Foundation and Open Table to improve health outcomes of all birthing people and babies.

Our commitment with CelebrateOne, Franklin County’s infant mortality prevention collaborative, will establish a new program, Housing for Pregnant Women, that will provide an integrated housing and health program. Support offered through the program includes rental and utility assistance, housing search and move-in assistance.

We also came together with the KSU Foundation with the goal to expand programming targeting preterm births and infant mortality among black mothers in northeast Ohio. Experts at Kent State found that untreated post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic stress among black mothers play a critical role in high mortality rates among black children. We will address this ongoing need through a newly launched program, The Spirit of Motherhood, a multi-level, multi-generational intervention approach that has three components to reduce infant mortality by reducing race-related stress in black women:

l Provide black pregnant women with Written Exposure Therapy, a brief intervention that helps them process racial trauma and other traumatic life experiences, delivered by black clinical psychology doctoral-level therapists;

l A five-session behavioral parenting training designed to alleviate parenting-related stressors and teach and enhance parenting skills for black mothers, led by community-based doulas;

l Utilization of music to teach preschool children of the pregnant women emotion regulation, adaptive coping and social skills.

Lastly, our collaboration with Open Table and Moms2B will aim to reduce the preterm birth

rate for 390 vulnerable women in Columbus and Dayton over a period of three years from 12.7 percent to 9.9 percent. Moms2B will identify, screen and refer at-risk clients to Open Table that have the most complex needs.

Through approaches like these — which combine data, community engagement and education — we are working to break down barriers and increase access to high-quality maternal health care for women and their babies across Ohio.

Dr. Bradley Jackson is the chief medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Medicaid Health Plan in Ohio.

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