By Karen Stokes
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), hosted a roundtable conversation at Outreach Community Health Centers, 210 W. Capitol Dr. The conversation focused on the issue of improving maternal health outcomes.
Does race play a role in health disparities concerning maternity care?
According to the CDC, Black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health.
“A serious situation that we face in Milwaukee in regard to maternal and infant mortality is inexcusable in a country as advanced as ours,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin was joined by State Rep. David Bowen, representatives from Outreach Community Health Center, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, African American Breastfeeding Network, WeRISE, the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, Black Child Development Institute, City of Milwaukee Health Department and Professional Women’s Network for Service.
Tonda Thompson, executive director of the National Coalition for Healthy Black Families, shared her maternal health story.
“I am a mother who has lost a child due to inadequate service in the health care industry,” she said.
Thompson’s son Terrell was born May 23, 2013. He lived for only 17 hours due to labor complications.
“I feel that we were an experiment that went wrong,” Thompson said. “My son passed away the next day and I was on the verge of losing my life as well. I do believe because of institutional racism, he did not receive proper health care. That situation created a monster in me.”
Thompson has fought for healthy babies across the city. The same year Terrell died, 116 babies died in similar situations.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC said, “The bottom line is that too many women are dying largely preventable deaths associated with their pregnancy.”
Baldwin is working on policy at the national level that can help create and strengthen partnerships that need to exist to include available maternal health care.
In February, Baldwin introduced the Perinatal Workforce Act with Congresswoman Gwen Moore to improve access to maternity care, and grow and diversify the perinatal health workforce.
“A couple of things very specifically on our topic today is the perinatal workforce,” Baldwin said. “I focused on growing the workforce so there’s more doula services but also recruiting a more racially diverse workforce that will have cultural competency.”
Nicole Angresano, vice president of Community Impact at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha said, “How lucky do I feel to have these two powerful, badass women representing the state. I am deeply grateful to have the advocates that we have in you (Baldwin) and Congresswoman Moore.”
Last month, Baldwin co- introduced the Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services (MOMMIES) Act with Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). The MOMMIES Act would extend and expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant and postpartum women from 60 days following pregnancy to a full year after childbirth; ensure that all pregnant and postpartum women have full Medicaid coverage rather than coverage that can be limited to pregnancy-related services; and increase access to primary care providers and reproductive health providers.
“I’m very excited for the MOMMIES Act,” Dalvery Blackwell, executive director of African American Breastfeeding Network said at the roundtable. “I think the act speaks to the experience of Black and brown pregnant and birthing people of color.”
“I believe this is a moment of opportunity in terms of policy and moving things forward,” Baldwin said.