The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services hosted a discussion on Sept. 21 to announce new federal funding to combat maternal mortality and improve maternal health, especially in traditionally underserved communities.
The Health Resources and Services Administration — a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — is providing the state this new funding through multiple grants.
The new funding, which adds up to more than $4 million, aims to expand access to maternity care, grow the workforce of nurse midwives, address maternal depression and provide community support during pregnancy and postpartum.
The roundtable discussion portion of the event happened after the grant announcement. Federal and state leaders, community members, advocates, clinicians and experts discussed the best methods to expand access to maternal care and address social supports vital to safe pregnancies.
“They were listening to ideas and suggestions from us that they would consider in their policymaking,” Sarah Verbiest, the director of the Jordan Institute for Families, said. “So there's an effort to be bidirectional with them learning from us and us being really happy to be getting some more resources to improve outcomes for mothers.”
More than $1.1 million each year for five years will go towards the Healthy Start Initiative, an organization providing leadership and advocacy to improve birth outcomes and family well-being.
This funding will focus specifically on Cumberland and Hoke counties because of their high Black infant mortality rate.
The funds will also be used to treat maternal depression and other behavioral health disorders in the NC Maternal Mental Health MATTERS Program. The five-year funding for $750,000 will help staff the North Carolina-Psychiatry Access Line's perinatal health component.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the maternal mortality rate for Black pregnant people was 2.6 times greater than their white counterparts in 2021. This disparity inspired Venus Standard, an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine, to found Lived Experience Accessible Doula, known as LEADoula.