Black women are 2.5 times more likely to die during pregnancy and postpartum care than white women. It’s a statistic that is consistent with another sobering reality: The United States ranks last among industrialized countries in maternal mortality rate, putting it on par with Egypt, Belize and Thailand.
The current conditions surrounding the care of pregnant women of color is one reason why the Anthem Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Anthem, Inc., has made maternal health among its top giving priorities.
Toward that end, the Foundation just announced a total of $14.5 million in grants in six U.S. states – part of a $30 million commitment over the next three years to support maternal health. Three Virginia nonprofits are among the recipients, each of which provides services related to the maternal health needs of women in historically underserved communities.
The three Virginia grantees – Urban Baby Beginnings, Postpartum Support Virginia and Birth in Color RVA – will share in a total of $1.45 million over the next three years. The grants support programs focused on reducing preterm (premature) birth rates, lowering maternal morbidity and mortality and decreasing the rate of primary cesarean births.
In announcing the grants, Jennie Reynolds, president of Anthem HealthKeepers Plus, said, “In Virginia, we’re pleased to support three heroic organizations on the front lines of maternal health that help sustain healthy pregnancies, reduce preterm births and foster strong parenting practices in traditionally high-risk areas across the Commonwealth.”
Stephanie Spencer, executive director at Urban Baby Beginnings, said the Anthem grant will help create and enhance community centers that serve pregnant women and new mothers.
“Our mission at Urban Baby Beginnings is to reduce adverse outcomes and the isolation that families often experience during prenatal, postpartum and early childhood, and we have found over the past 25-plus years that maternal health hubs provide a safe, welcoming and supportive place for new moms,” Spencer said.
The grant to Richmond-based Urban Baby Beginnings – $825,000 over three years – supports Project Rebyrth, an initiative that will create a new maternal health community hub in Petersburg as well as enhance existing hubs in Richmond, Newport News and Norfolk. The hubs are one-stop centers where families access maternal health education, classes, social support and baby essentials.
At Arlington-based Postpartum Support Virginia, the focus is on the mental well-being of new mothers, especially those in communities of color. The organization has been selected to receive a three-year, $475,000 grant to support Collaborative Rounds. The initiative facilitates collaboration among maternal health providers, including major hospital centers, that focuses on screening and supporting young mothers suffering from Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADS), an often-neglected condition that threatens women’s mental health and wellbeing.
“This grant will go a long way toward creating new and strengthening existing relationships in two areas of the state with high levels of need for postpartum support,” said Mandolin Restivo, acting executive director at Postpartum Support Virginia. “Mental health wellness for many new mothers, especially as they experience COVID-induced periods of isolation, is an often-overlooked risk factor following delivery, and our programs have proven to be an effective means for giving these moms the support they need.”
For Richmond-based Birth in Color RVA, the focus of its $150,000 grant over the next two years is on developing doulas in underrepresented localities in Virginia, including Roanoke, Hampton Roads and the Northern Neck. The grant will cover the training and support of 18 doulas of color who will join an existing network of doulas who provide prenatal and postpartum care to Black women and women of color in culturally sensitive ways
“Since our founding over three years ago, Birth in Color has helped to enhance the availability of maternal care by supporting the training and sustainability of doulas whose own backgrounds and experiences mirror those of the moms that they are serving,” said Kenda Sutton-El, the executive director of Birth in Color and herself a trained doula. “Thanks to this Anthem Foundation grant, we can accelerate new doula training, whose work in the communities they serve is critical for the health of babies and mothers alike.”
In applauding the efforts of Anthem and the partner organizations, Colin M. Green, MD, MPH, the Acting State Health Commissioner at the Virginia Department of Health said, “Measures of maternal health and infant health and mortality often serve as a barometer of the overall health of a community. These nonprofit groups are on the ground, providing resources and support where it matters.”
Anthem, Inc. is a client of The Hodges Partnership, a sponsor of The Phil.