Credit: (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, file)
File photo: A doctor uses a handheld doppler probe to measure the heartbeat of a pregnant woman.

New Jersey has made significant strides to improve birth outcomes — especially among black residents. But additional funding is needed to continue this work at the state and community levels, build a diverse and sustainable workforce, and improve coordination and communication among maternal health stakeholders.

Those were among the common themes expressed during the first lady’s 5th annual Black Maternal and Child Health Summit, an online event that drew about 300 attendees Tuesday. And Murphy, who spearheaded the effort, is well aware that the clock is ticking on the job, given that her husband, Gov. Phil Murphy, has just over three years left in office.

“I’d be lying if I told you I was happy (with the reform schedule) from day one,” Tammy Murphy told NJ Spotlight News after Tuesday’s summit. “From day one, it’s been a strong warning, there’s no time, there’s no burning moment,” Murphy said. “Over the past three to five years, we have moved mountains. But we still have a lot to do.”

Coordination, education saves lives

New Jersey ranks 47th nationally in maternal mortality, and the risk of death for black women here is seven times that of white mothers, according to Murphy’s team. A report published earlier this month found that most of the 125 maternal deaths reported between 2016 and 2018 could have been prevented with better care coordination and appropriate patient education.

Tammy Murphy launched Nurture NJ in 2019 to address these gaps, and in early 2021 released a plan to reduce the maternal mortality rate by 50% and eliminate racial disparities within five years. Murphy launched a series of Black Maternal Health Summits in 2018, and she said the ideas from those sessions — such as the need to screen all patients for recent pregnancies, which is now required by state law — have informed the goals ever since. policies and reforms.

New Jersey has developed a comprehensive maternal health plan, but one that will take time

Governor Phil Murphy has signed dozens of laws and committed tens of millions in state and federal funding to improve maternal and infant health since he took office in 2017; many of New Jersey’s 49 birth centers have also taken steps to improve clinical outcomes. But it takes time to implement change; the new universal newborn home visiting program approved earlier this year won’t start families until next fall.

A long way

“It feels like we have a lot of traction in our ability to move forward,” Tammy Murphy said Tuesday, noting she was grateful her husband was re-elected in 2020, giving her four more years to implement the program. . “I’m grateful for what we have, but we have a lot more to do.”

That to-do list includes the creation of the Trenton Center for Maternal and Infant Health Innovation, the crown jewel of Nurture NJ’s plan. The vision for this center includes a policy research component as well as clinical maternal health services and support. New Jersey committed at least 55 million dollars in state and federal funds for the project, and Tammy Murphy said she is continuing to search for a director while working with the community to identify a location and finalize the vision. Greater Mount Zion AME Church in Trenton announced last month that it will also work with partners to open a birthing center early next year using public and private funds.

The plan aims to focus efforts on reducing deaths during pregnancy and improving overall health

At Tuesday’s summit, breakout groups worked through the details of the Nurture NJ plan and discussed how to better understand racial disparities in outcomes, collaborate more with trusted community groups and ensure lasting change is codified in state policy and law. Participants highlighted a range of needs, from improving oral health education to using social media to reach young people to including incarcerated women in their work.

Author: Office of the First Lady
A view from a breakout session at the 5th Annual First Lady Summit on Black Maternal and Child Health

Many agreed that more funding is needed to support this work, particularly to expand and improve the maternal health workforce. That means better pay for professionals like midwives, doulas and community health workers who are “integral to good outcomes,” said Jodi Green of Community Doulas of South Jersey. “These changes must not be measured and gradual, but large and transformative to meet the needs,” she added.

Make sure that mothers’ voices are heard

Summit participants stated that clinical maternal health education should emphasize the role and voice of the birthing individual and should evolve and continue throughout the provider’s career. “So it’s not just a simple class, it’s built into the curriculum, so it stays outside of this administration,” said Marilyn Cintron, CEO of Alliance Community Health Inc.

Several participants emphasized the need for a universal policy so that health care providers can be licensed and midwives and doulas have full access to New Jersey birth centers. Improved support for child care could also allow more parents, especially those of color, to access education and training to build careers in maternal health, they said.

Helen Hannigan of the Perinatal Cooperative of Southern New Jersey emphasized the importance of coordinating with non-traditional partners outside of health care, such as nail salons, laundromats and ESL classes, to help the company connect with pregnant people in need. It’s also important to measure progress and success at Nurture NJ, she said, and not just through specific metrics, “but things like awareness and engagement.”

Many participants also emphasized the importance of amplifying the voices of women, especially women of color, and the communities involved, as opposed to dictating change from the outside. Janelle Hobson, who works for Assemblywoman Linda Carter (D-Union), emphasized “keeping in mind that community members are not data points” but real people who need to be heard. “We have to say, ‘We have this data, but what do you need to improve the quality of care,'” she said.

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