HealthConnect One Awarded NJ Department of Health Grant To Strengthen, Expand Community Doulas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // August 26, 2021

Trenton, New Jersey – The New Jersey Department of Health today announced the award of a grant to HealthConnect One to develop a diverse community doula workforce to support women during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.

HealthConnect One will establish a Doula Learning Collaborative to increase the number of trained community doulas — professionals who provide culturally appropriate, social and emotional support to pregnant women throughout the prenatal period, labor and delivery, as well as the postpartum period. The Doula Learning Collaborative will also support doulas in engaging with multiple health systems and process Medicaid reimbursement claims for their services.

“Community doulas have the inherent local knowledge and understanding that enables them to provide culturally responsive care to our mothers during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “Doula care can lead to lower rates of maternal and infant health complications, fewer preterm births and low-birthweight infants, higher rates of breastfeeding, and so much more. Doulas amplify mothers’ voices and listen to their needs, ultimately improving birth outcomes for mothers and babies of color.”

The Doula Learning Collaborative is part of First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan released in January 2021. The goal of the plan is to reduce New Jersey’s maternal mortality by 50 percent over five years and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes. It is a culmination of more than a year of in-person and virtual meetings with more than 100 critical stakeholders including national public health experts, New Jersey state departments and agencies, health systems, physicians, doulas, community organizations, and mothers and families.

“Research demonstrates that support from a doula is associated with lower caesarian section rates, fewer obstetric interventions, fewer complications, and the improved health of mothers and babies after delivery,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

HealthConnect One, based in Chicago, IL., is a national leader in advancing birth equity and has a 35-year history of collaborating with communities to support under-resourced Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and birthing families to achieve positive health outcomes.

Currently, there are approximately 79 doulas that were trained and certified through Department of Health pilot programs and another 150 to 200 private practice doulas working independently in the state.

The Department of Health, Division of Family Health Services Reproductive and Perinatal Health Services awarded the grant after a competitive request for proposals was issued in March. The review committee agreed the firm could successfully create a diverse community doula workforce by implementing and recruiting a diverse Advisory Board; provide training, clinical supervision, technical support, leadership development, and advocacy for doulas, and develop a plan for the Doula Learning Collaborative.

The organization’s contract for $450,000 is for one year with the possibility of continuation of funding for two additional years based on performance in prior years and availability of funds.

For more information on Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan, please visit https://nj.gov/governor/admin/fl/nurturenj.shtml

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Media Contact: Zainab Sulaiman, HealthConnect One Director of Communications & Advocacy
Tel: (202)440-1576 Email: zsulaiman@healthconnectone.org

Jamarah Amani webinar photo

Increase power, improve health outcomes, Amani says

Please click below to view the webinar video from May 28.

“We cannot talk about health disparities without talking about power, and how lack of access to power over the course of one’s life impacts the ability to be healthy,” Jamarah Amani, executive director of Southern Birth Justice, told more than 100 birth workers and others on HealthConnect One’s recent webinar.

“By increasing power, we also improve health outcomes,” Amani said. She was the featured presenter on the second of three webinars focusing on birth equity this spring and summer. Milwaukeean Dalvery Blackwell presented her agency’s birth equity work during COVID-19 on the first; a third is later this week in Spanish and in English

Amani is founder of the National Black Midwives Alliance, the only national professional association specifically for midwives of African descent, as well as director at Southern Birth Justice, working to expand the birth justice movement and to make midwifery and doula care accessible to all. She’s been honored numerous times for tackling the epidemics of black maternal and infant morbidity and mortality for more than 15 years, such as the 2019 Trailblazer Award from the city of Miami, as well as media coverage in Florida where she’s based and nationally.

Birth Justice Bill of Rights & Circle of Mamas 

Amani presented an approach that combines the toolboxes of the community health worker and the community organizer. She shared her organization’s Birth Justice Bill of Rights, 22 core values that Black and all other pre-conception, pregnant, birthing or postpartum persons have a right to–from the right to stand against racism to the right to recognize that my body is always mine. 

She also discussed their seven-year-old Circle of Mamas program, a combination childbirth preparation, doula support, and leadership development circle, Amani said: “e talk to young mamas about their birth options. We educate them, they educate us on what their needs are, and we work together collaboratively with our community in a participatory way to uplift and honor their needs.” 

She presented, with permission, the video birth story of Bianca, a young woman who participated in Circle of Mamas and chose to deliver at a birth center. 

“When I watched this video,” Amani said, “it really to me is what is possible when we come together as a community, when we have access to black midwives and black doulas, when young parents are not shamed but they are celebrated for their journey into motherhood  and parenting. This is to me what is possible.”

“And it doesn’t mean it’s easy. You know but it is possible. And it will help to not only improve health outcomes but make our communities better places to live and to grow. That is central to the birth justice movement.”

PPE for Black Midwives available 

As Amani explained in the opening portion of her pre-recorded presentation, a client was headed into labor at the scheduled time of the session. But that seemed to present few problems for Amani, nor for participants who tuned in through to the end of the session, facilitated by the HealthConnect One team. Joining the call were more than 130 people from 30 states and Puerto Rico, as well as several who joined in from Brazil and Canada.

The presentation lifted up historical birth workers including Onnie Lee Logan and Biddy Mason and was dedicated to Claudia Booker, the Washington, D.C. midwife who passed away earlier this year, a formative influence for Amani.

Before ending the session, Amani discussed key initiatives in her work during the time of COVID-19.  The National Black Midwives Alliance and Everyday Birth magazine are paying for Personal Protective Equipment for midwives of color facing difficulties getting these supplies. Information on how to request a kit or make donations to support purchase of additional kits is here.

two report covers

Reports highlight community-based doulas’ role vs. maternal health crisis

One new report out of Washington, D.C. highlights that racism is the driving force of disparities in maternal mortality and doulas and midwives are key to the solution. Another from a Native women-led organization in New Mexico analyzes the living-wage pay scale of, and recommends a greater role for, community-based doulas. 

Taken together, both reports highlight the growing energy and consensus — one that can only be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic — for greater use of community-based doulas, lactation counselors and other community health workers. 

Here are more details on the two new documents:

Expanding Access to Doula Care: Birth Equity and Economic Justice in New Mexico 

Report here

This March 2020 report is from the Yiya Vi Kagingdi Doula Project, the Indigenous Women’s Health & Reproductive Justice Program of Tewa Women United. (It should be noted the leaders of this project are also part of HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy). Recommendations from the report include:

  1. State and Federal Legislation for Medicaid Reimbursement
  2. Managed Care Organization (MCO)-Led Reimbursement
  3. Expanding Access to Doula Training

“As a multicultural, multiracial organization founded and led by Native women in Northern New Mexico, we offer our perspective on Medicaid reimbursement for doula care as well as other opportunities to improve access across our state,” according to the organization. 

“Community-Based Doulas and Midwives: Key to Addressing the U.S. Maternal Health Crisis”

Video

Report here 

News release here

At the heart of the April 2020 Center for American Progress report are Interviews with midwives and doulas from across the field of birth equity including HealthConnect One interim executive director Jeretha McKinley. The interviews were conducted in February and March 2020 via phone, email, video conference, and in person. 

Recommendations from the report include: 

  • Fund existing community-based organizations providing doula and/or midwifery care.
  • Expand access to training and education to support growing a diverse maternity care workforce.
  • Improve integration in and support for doulas and midwives from the medical system.
  • Establish clear guidelines for government regulation of practice.
  • Provide access and the autonomy to choose a range of birth options.

“While the world grapples with a global health pandemic and hospitals across the country are being stretched to capacity, the role community-based doulas and midwives play in bridging health disparities and supporting pregnant people in their experiences giving birth is more crucial than ever,” said report author Nora Ellmann, research associate for women’s health and rights with the Women’s Initiative at CAP.

Congrats to HealthConnect One Birth Equity Leadership Academy leader Steph McCreary and to our own interim Executive Director Jeretha McKinley for raising their voices for birth equity with their representation in and development of these reports! 

Talking with Tikvah – Doula tips during COVID-19

 

Interest from pregnant women in having home births have increased drastically since COVID-19 began. Despite this interest, many women are still going to hospitals to give birth. Doulas and the expectant moms they are supporting are facing new challenges in the birthing process. During this difficult time, doulas are working hard to take care of birthing moms and their families. Tikvah Wadley, who is a birth doula and leads HealthConnect One’s Community-Based Doula program, shares some tips she thinks are useful during COVID-19.

Tikvah’s Doula Tips:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Research online where you’re able to purchase your own personal protective equipment.
  • Keep your phone charger on hand because many hospitals are moving toward virtual support. This can drain your battery quickly and we don’t need your phone to die during pushing. 😊
  • Share supportive and sometimes humorous text messages with your clients.
  • Remember it’s not your fault if you’re not allowed to accompany her to the birth room.
  • Share your non-touch comfort measure skills with her during COVID-19.
  • Send virtual hugs.
  • Try to get some rest.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Don’t forget to ask if you can have a picture of the baby to help remind you of why you continue to do this work. 😊

Do you have any tips? Share them with us in the comment section of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or send them to info@healthconnectone.org and we will add them to this post.

Additional resource: Our friends at DONA have also created a toolkit for doulas that you can find here.

 

New Webinar: April 30 – Supporting Birthing Families During COVID-19

Update: here’s a video of the webinar featuring Dalvery Blackwell presenting on African-American Breastfeeding Network’s birth work in Milwaukee during COVID-19. 

 

COVID-19 virus has been deemed a public health pandemic by the World Health Organization in January. During this time, birthing communities of color and African-American families need continuity of support, affirmation and emotional support.

Due to this COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an increase in birthing families feeling anxiety, fear, and stress who might not have access to traditional visits at home or hospital and breastfeeding peer counselor or community-based doula support. The webinar will be led by Dalvery Blackwell, Executive Director of the African-American Breastfeeding Network (AABN), who will share why this approach is imperative during this public health crisis. She will also share how AABN is continuing to support families effectively in Milwaukee during these challenging times.

Register for this FREE webinar today – Space limited!

The African-American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) has been providing peer support that is trusted and rooted in the community for over 10 years. They focus on supporting African-American families from birth through postpartum period.

Dalvery Blackwell, AABN’s Executive Director, will share why this approach is imperative during this public health crises.  She will also share in this webinar how AABN is continuing to support families effectively in Milwaukee during these challenging times.

AABN is also a national leader in first food equity and advocate for African-American families. AABN also convenes and supports doulas in the community to support them in providing support for families.

This webinar will cover the following:

  • Discuss the importance of continuity of support from trusted peers in the community during this public health pandemic
  • Importance of community-rooted based support for birthing parents and breastfeeding parents
  • Adapting services due to COVID-19 and impact of public health pandemic on community
  • Feel hopeful and supported

Speaker Bio: Dalvery Blackwell is Executive Director and a co-founder of the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN). She is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Communications. AABN was established in 2008 and has been recognized by Essence Magazine, Associated Press, and CDC.

Register for this FREE webinar today – Space limited!

Pure CHW Awesomeness in South Carolina

by Amber Pendergraph, Community-Based Doula with BirthMatters

Talk about Pure Awesomeness!

I recently had the honor of being grandfathered into a Community Health Worker (CHW) course. The course was followed by a certification exam to become a certified community health worker for South Carolina! The training I attended was facilitated by Julie Smithwick. I thoroughly enjoyed her teaching style and strategies.

A CHW is a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community in which they serve. A CHW works directly with a member of the community as a liaison. They work to improve patient outcomes, increase access to healthcare, and address social determinants by bridging the gap between healthcare organizations and their communities to combat the ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare.

I am very passionate about the work that I do within my community. I have been in my career as a Community-Based Doula with BirthMatters for 8+ years. BirthMatters replicates the HealthConnect One model. This model is so amazing because you meet the individuals where they are. This community-based model that I follow as a doula believes we, the community members, have the solutions to these complex health disparities. It is very empowering.

Although I have been working within my community for many years, I had a lot of takeaways from the training. I learned so much and I am sure I will utilize the information to enhance my skills as a Community-Based Doula. There were two things that really spoke to me from this training:

  • First was the importance of cultural competence, which means to be respectful and responsive to all health beliefs and practices. This was a part of the HealthConnect One training and it’s nice to revisit this essential component.
  • The second is the need for health equity, which means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthier!

Because of this course, in my role as a community health worker doula, I will strive to practice these core competencies. I will work with my community to remove obstacles such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to good jobs and fair pay. I now feel more than ever that I am equipped to help members of my community by sharing resources and connecting with other organizations within the community I serve.

ROBE: Teaching Fathers To Support Breastfeeding In Their Families

 

Thank you to Wesley Bugg, for taking the time this Father’s Day to share about the organization he founded, called Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere (ROBE).

What is the goal of ROBE?

The goal of Reaching Our Brothers Everywhere is to provide men with culturally appropriate information and resources that allow them to more fully understand the dilemma of breastfeeding and birth disparities in order to impact maternal and infant mortality—especially in minority communities where the disparities are more prominent. It is a well-known that communities of color have been historically resource deprived when it comes to engagement in the process of eliminating disparities. We intend to alleviate misinformation in these communities so that fathers, brothers, uncles, mentors, pastors and community leaders have culturally competent language to understand and share the importance of breastfeeding and birth equity and are able to communicate this information and knowledge to others in the community.

How does supporting dads improve birth equity?

ROBE’s support of fathers is to educate, equip and empower men to impact the increase of breastfeeding initiation and duration and decrease maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in disproportionately disenfranchised communities. Knowledge is power, power not to be held on to but to be shared. Men can bring significant relief from anxiety to a woman’s birth experience. Creating positive, culturally based opportunities for fathers to be involved with birth process allows them to be heard and provides for less family stress. Our equation is Stress= Demand – Resources.

How does the funding from HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA) help you reach project goals?

Funding from HealthConnect One has been a game changer. This funding has allowed us to become visible in the community to get our message out. We have participated in male oriented projects in Louisiana, Oklahoma, California, Colorado, Ohio and Georgia.

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Wesley Bugg, is a BELA Leader and he serves ROSE as their Financial and Legal Operations Coordinator.

Moms and babies in Michigan receive the gold-standard of care through Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association’s community-based doula program ~ via SF Bay View

Read – Moms and babies in Michigan receive the gold-standard of care through Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association’s community-based doula program

“Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) in Detroit, Mich., has successfully received national accreditation through HealthConnect One’s (HC One) Community-Based Doula Accreditation Program. BMBFA underwent a rigorous process in which the HealthConnect One Accreditation Team reviewed the organization’s existing Community-Based Doula Program to ensure high-quality implementation.

“Community-based doulas play an important role in helping decrease maternal and infant mortality rates and increase breastfeeding rates. These women are trained to provide peer support to other women in their communities throughout pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.

“BMBFA’s accreditation from HealthConnect One comes at a time when maternal and infant mortality is skyrocketing in the African-American community due to racial disparities in the healthcare system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than those of white women.” This is impacting the health of African-American women at an alarming rate, causing a maternal health epidemic. The accreditation means that BMBFA is providing Detroit mothers with the highest quality care.”

by Kiddada Green, published by the San Francisco Bay View, a National Black Newspaper, on May 16, 2019

Philanthropy Can Make a Difference in Helping Black and Brown Mothers Survive Childbirth

Read – Philanthropy Can Make a Difference in Helping Black and Brown Mothers Survive Childbirth

“When we started our work supporting mothers to assure they had healthy births, we were often asked, What’s a doula? Now most people know a doula is a trained professional who provides extended, intensive peer-to-peer support to mothers and families throughout pregnancy, during labor and birth, and into the early postpartum period.

“Even with this greater understanding, we are still a long way from achieving equity in making sure all women have access to care. It is shameful that the United States has the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality of any developed country. These appalling statistics are due in part to the disproportionate number of women of color, particularly black women, who experience poor maternal health outcomes.

“To improve these outcomes, we need greater investments in maternal and child health from philanthropy and the government. Policy makers, public-health officials, and philanthropists need to understand that for our nation as a whole to be healthy and to thrive, we need to ensure that every baby, mother, and family has access to support for healthy pregnancies, births, and childhood development.

“Every day, we hear stories of black and Latina mothers and babies who die or experience near-fatal complications during childbirth. More often than not, these mothers tell us they experience blatant disrespect and disregard from medical staff. To add to the health detriments, they are typically discouraged from breastfeeding their children, even though breastfeeding has been shown to boost infants’ immune systems, protect them against allergies, and provide critical skin-to-skin contact.

“Increasingly, as public figures like Serena Williams and Beyoncé have spoken out about their own harrowing experiences with pregnancy and childbirth, more people have become aware of the diminished maternal-health outcomes mothers of color are more likely to experience.

“Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. And black babies are more than twice as likely to die during their first year of life than white babies . . . ”

Published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, April 2019

by Toni Hill from the Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project (NEMS) and Tikvah Wadley
from HealthConnect One

Moms and Babies in Michigan Receive the Gold-Standard of Care Through BMBFA’s Community-Based Doula Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts:
Diana Pando, HC One
Communications Coordinator
312.498.4067
dpando@healthconnectone.org

Kiddada Green, BMBFA
Founding Executive Director
313.400.1215
KiddadaG@BMBFA.org

Moms and Babies in Michigan Receive the Gold-Standard of Care Through Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association’s Community-Based Doula Program

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) in Detroit, MI has successfully received national accreditation through HealthConnect One’s (HC One) Community-Based Doula Accreditation Program. BMBFA underwent a rigorous process in which the HealthConnect One Accreditation Team reviewed the organization’s existing Community-Based Doula Program to ensure high-quality implementation. Community-based doulas play an important role in helping decrease maternal and infant mortality rates and increase breastfeeding rates. These women are trained to provide peer support to other women in their communities throughout pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and early parenting.

BMBFA’s accreditation from HealthConnect One comes at a time when maternal and infant mortality is skyrocketing in the African-American community due to racial disparities in the healthcare system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than those of white women.” This is impacting the health of African-American women at an alarming rate and has created a maternal health epidemic. The accreditation means that BMBFA is providing Detroit mothers the highest quality care.

“The accreditation gives us a boost towards creating a sustainable program with the ability to build a labor market for community-based doulas. We continue to positively impact our community, providing respectable service and honorable care to Detroit families,” said Kiddada Green, BMBFA Founding Executive Director. “We understand the level of intimacy involved in pregnancy and birth and we are honored each and every time that a family allows us join in their birth experience.”

BMBFA’s Community-Based Doula Home Visiting Program has assisted in more than one hundred births. Their data from 2015 to 2017 demonstrates the importance of their program in African-American communities. The program boasts 1100+ prenatal and postpartum encounters, 100% breastfeeding initiation rate, 100% regular prenatal care, 99% healthy birth weight, 99% full-term babies and 0 infant deaths.

“I believe that any services offered in the community should be dedicated to the whole family, not just the individual. My Community-Based Doula from Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association not only assisted me, but she also supported my partner, my mother and even my sisters during my birth experience,” said Cherry Tolbert, Community-Based Doula program participant.

The transformative effect of doulas in communities has been spotlighted in a federally funded study in 2014. The study found that 87 percent of community-based doula clients were breastfeeding at six weeks, compared with 61 percent of a similar sample; 72 percent were still at it when their babies were three months old, compared with 48 percent of the broader sample.

HC One’s Community-Based Doula Accreditation Program (CBDAP) is designed to help organizations implement a high-quality Community-Based Doula program. “The goal of accreditation is to build greater fidelity to HC One’s evidence-based community-based doula model; therefore, improving quality of service and outcomes for program participants,” said Tikvah Wadley, HC One Program Manager. HC One’s first accreditation was Open Arms Perinatal Services in Washington State with the goal to provide mothers with the quality care they deserve.

This unique, innovative program model works because it provides extended, intensive support to families throughout pregnancy, during labor and childbirth, and in the early months of parenting in communities that face high risks of negative birth and developmental outcomes. Recently, HC One’s program model was profiled in the 2018 Home Visiting Yearbook. The publication compiles early childhood home visiting key data and presents a comprehensive picture available at the national and state levels.

Upon accreditation with HC One, BMBFA’s Community-Based Doula program is recognized publicly as setting the standards for high-quality doula care. Accredited organizations are positioned to attract the attention of funding sources which are committed to high-quality implementation of Community-Based Doula Programs nationwide, and BMBFA will gain additional exposure as a leader in their field through training and collaborative opportunities with HC One.

The Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association Community-Based Doula program is generously funded by the following foundations: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, March of Dimes Michigan, The Jewish Fund and Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

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About Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association

BMBFA is focused on reducing racial inequities in breastfeeding support for black families. Since 2007, BMBFA carries out its mission by way of direct service, training/education & advocacy. For more information, visit http://blackmothersbreastfeeding.org/

About HealthConnect One

HealthConnect One®  (HC One) is the national leader in advancing respectful, community-based, peer-to-peer support for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting. Organizations can contact HC One about their highly successful approach, replicating their program, or to collaborate in other ways to address birth equity. For more information, visit www.healthconnectone.org.

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