How health plans can improve the maternal well-being of black women in Georgia

Prioritizing health for mothers and babies.

Caresource Maternal Health Care

I cannot state this with more urgency or conviction: Maternal care for Black women needs to be a health care priority in our state

The statistics for maternal health for Black women in Georgia are shocking. Pregnant and postpartum Black women and their babies are at increased risk for poor health outcomes up to and including death. Here’s how dire the situation has become:

  • Maternal mortality rates for Black women in Georgia continue to be some of the worst in our country
  • Black women are 2.3 times more likely to die than white women
  • Georgia received an “F” grade from the March of Dimes for maternal and infant health
  • Expecting moms in rural populations are at higher risk, with more than 70 counties in Georgia offering no OB-GYN services

As a recognized leader in providing managed care to underserved populations, we have made it our mission at CareSource to introduce a wide range of innovative, practical programs that provide superior, holistic care for our members.

At the end of January, for example, our company announced a joint effort with Walmart and Johnson & Johnson to make it easier for Black women in our state to receive maternal care. Initial pilot programs are underway and encompass pre-pregnancy planning and prenatal and postnatal care initiatives, with focus on such areas as digital solutions to provide high-touch pregnancy care, health care provider education and self-care support.

This new collaboration is noteworthy because it is designed to improve education and access to care, but it also takes a community-based, people-centric approach. Prenatal education is essential because it helps first-time moms (and dads) prepare for the arrival of their child. And the Walmart/Johnson & Johnson initiative complements CareSource’s Mom and Baby Beginnings service, where members are paired with a care manager and CareSource Life Services coach and can receive pre-pregnancy and inter-pregnancy care. Mom and Baby Beginnings is free to our members.

The Walmart/Johnson & Johnson partnership also addresses postpartum services, which is a vital part of a woman’s overall pregnancy care. Caregivers have long known that women face the risk of serious and sometimes life-threatening complications soon after giving birth – something of which many first-time, expecting mothers are unaware. Georgia’s Department of Public Health found that between 2018 and 2020, 78 women died from pregnancy-related causes – and all but two of the deaths were determined to be preventable.

Our commitment to maternal care for women has been an integral part of our comprehensive care for members. We have partnered with the Phoebe Foundation to support a new Nurse-Family Partnership® initiative, a nationally recognized evidenced-based program for first-time moms and their babies to improve health outcomes. Specially trained nurses conduct regularly scheduled visits with expecting moms, starting early in pregnancy and continuing until the baby’s second birthday to provide care and support throughout out the journey.

Also in 2022, we donated nearly $100,000 to help create H.E.A.R.T for Georgia, a program that educates and trains caregivers, health advocates and families of women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. At the foundation of H.E.A.R.T for Georgia is an innovative, community-focused family health advocate training model that coaches individuals with the goal of addressing chronic health and environmental issues that lead to poor perinatal outcomes.

Black mothers face significant obstacles to obtaining maternal care. Our state’s OB-GYN workforce is aging, and new doctors are not being hired fast enough to replace those leaving the profession. Also, the majority of OB-GYNs and related professionals are not African American or come from the communities that serve Black moms. Add in the fact that an estimated 40% of labor and delivery facilities have closed during the past 20 years and it is easy to see why Black moms-to-be are not engaging with health care professionals and receiving the quality care they require.

The programs that CareSource has introduced, and other ones being operated by our health care providers and community partners across our state, are a step in the right direction. But we need more participants to engage and help us address each of the five domains of the social determinants of health – economic stability, health care, education, housing and social/community connection – so we can collectively effect lasting change to improve maternal care for Black women in Georgia.

Dr. Seema Csukas, chief medical officer for CareSource Georgia

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