Meet Rebekah Gee, MD, MPH, of “Giving Birth in America: Louisiana”
By Hannah McCouch
During her short tenure as Secretary of Health for the state of Louisiana, Rebekah Gee has seen to it that 400,000 previously uninsured citizens now receive primary and preventative health benefits.
In a state bearing the unfortunate distinction of having the worst birth outcomes in the nation, Medicaid covers 70% of all births in Louisiana, yet many women at high risk lose their coverage between 30–60 days postpartum, a policy that Dr. Gee is determined to change.
Improving birth outcomes in Louisiana, will depend on improving social equity according to Dr. Gee.
“You can’t truly influence the course of a mother’s life if you only wait until pregnancy. Women need ongoing care. By addressing chronic conditions, mental health and other issues, women can have healthy pregnancies.”
Access to care continues to be a critical issue that is only exacerbated by natural disasters. When the equivalent of 10 million Olympic pools of water flooded Baton Rouge, “It was frightening in terms of women getting access to care.” In the end though, Dr. Gee says the federal and state response to the flooding was “Very effective. NICU babies and moms got the care they needed.”
Another issue contributing to maternal mortality in the United States is overmedicalization. For example, C-sections performed for the convenience of providers, regardless of medical necessity.
“We know inductions are more than twice as likely to lead to a c-section, and we know that c-sections have major impacts on women’s health and are a major contributing factor to a very concerning uptick nationally in the death of moms. That’s wrong and we need to change it.”
“To think about pregnancy, as completely independent from women’s health is a big mistake. You can’t fix pregnancy outcomes and really truly influence the course of a mother’s life if you only wait until pregnancy,” said Dr. Gee.
“In the state of Louisiana, access to care is not the only social determinant of health, health is determined by much more than healthcare so we have to think about equity, about social justice, we have to think about, what the governor and I have fought for, equal pay, we have to think about paid maternity leave, other policies that support social systems, that support women and families.