October 27, 2023
Administrator, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
Vice President of the Equality of Opportunity Initiative, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Despite the U.S. being a world leader, the country’s mortality rates for maternal and child health continue to rise. Pregnancy-related complications and childbirth claim the lives of hundreds of women every year, a 2022 Government Accountability Office report found, with Black women at nearly three times the risk of death.
At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equality of Opportunity In Action: Improving Maternal and Child Health event, Carole Johnson, administrator at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), discussed the current state of maternal healthcare and the federal initiatives in place to combat its challenges.
The Government Is Driving Change Through Focused Initiatives
According to Johnson, the Biden Administration is striving to address the rising maternal mortality rates through the American Rescue Plan by increasing Medicare accessibility for postpartum individuals for a year post-pregnancy.
Other agencies have also joined the fight by partnering in communities where healthcare access is lacking. Among these agencies is the HRSA, which launched a $90 million initiative in September as part of the White House blueprint for improving maternal health. On top of this, HRSA invested $65 million in community health centers in May to improve maternal healthcare access and recently launched a maternal mental health hotline: 833-TLC-MAMA.
“We fund federally qualified community health centers — 1,500 organizations [and] 15,000 sites across the country — where people can get care regardless of their ability to pay,” Johnson said. “Together, those health centers serve more than 300,000 folks. But what works there is what we hope to take to scale, and our health centers provide care to more than 30 million folks.”
As Johnson highlighted, HRSA has expanded its footprint across the country through initiatives like these, which emphasize improving care in hospitals and community settings, as well as building a strong workforce with a research network that includes historically black colleges and universities.
Employer Partners Can Help to Improve the Healthcare System
Women’s voices, particularly Black women’s voices, often go unheard, according to Johnson. Yet, employers have the power to influence culture and policies — and maternal and child health is no exception. Johnson believes employers need to advocate for broader acceptance of different maternal health services providers, such as supporting not just OBGYNs but also midwives, doulas, and community health workers.
“Our partnerships need to be centered around [the voices of women who've had these experiences] and delivering care in the way that reflects what women need and what women are telling us they need,” Johnson said. “Time and again, employers have been the lead on… identifying quality improvement initiatives and strategies that… drive change in the clinical care system.”
Johnson highlighted that businesses can also provide logistical support like transportation, flexible scheduling, and childcare options — alleviating financial strains and access challenges to improve employees’ experiences and mental health.
From the Series