New York, A First Step Towards Addressing Racial Disparities in Maternal Health

Chanel Porchia-Albert, Founder and Executive Director of Ancient Song Doula Services, has been one of many advocates who are using the power of community-based doula care to address New York’s stark racial disparities and improve maternal health, especially for low-income women and women of color.

This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo reaffirmed New York State’s commitment to improving maternal health in an exciting announcement of several new statewide initiatives to address the state’s shocking racial disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity. The Governor’s plan includes a pilot program to initiate Medicaid coverage for doula care, as well as the creation of a Taskforce on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes.

New York currently ranks 30th in the nation for its maternal mortality rate, and Black women in New York are four times as likely to die in childbirth than white women. Governor Cuomo’s announcement is a remarkable first step towards our shared goals of addressing the devastating racial and economic disparities in maternal health so that every mother in New York is able to access maternity care that is safe, respectful, and culturally appropriate.

Doula support is proven to result in better birth outcomes for both women and babies. Doulas are trained to provide non-clinical emotional, physical and informational support for women before, during and after labor and birth. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that birth doula care is “one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes.”

While doula care is cost prohibitive for most families, New York’s pilot program would make these services available to those women most in need of such support through Medicaid reimbursement. If this pilot proves successful, New York will join Minnesota and Oregon as the third state to provide Medicaid reimbursement for doula services.

Now, we are looking ahead to make sure that these initiatives succeed. Every Mother Counts has joined our partners on the New York Coalition for Doula Access (NYCDA) steering committee to commend Governor Andrew Cuomo for taking the initiative to prioritize mothers of color in New York State, as well as to urge the immediate and ongoing inclusion of meaningful input from community members, women of color, and community-based organizations.

In order to make progress in eliminating disparities in maternal health, we must ensure that communities of color and the organizations that serve them are leading decisions, particularly around doula program design, training standards and requirements, fair compensation, and identifying community needs.

We look forward to working with the Governor’s office and our NYCDA partners to center the experience and leadership of women of color and to make sure the right voices are at the table.

Topics: Doula, Maternal Health, Pregnancy