Innovating Doula Program to Address Racial Disparities

Innovating Doula Program to Address Racial Health Disparities

Doulas play a crucial role in combating the discrimination, racism, and loss of autonomy that
Black and Brown birthing people experience due to historical disinvestment.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // September 29, 2021

Through its System Transformation and Community Investment Program, Finger Lakes Performing Provider System (FLPPS) is partnering with Healthy Baby Network, HealthConnect One, and Finger Lakes Community Health on a two-year initiative to innovate Healthy Baby Network’s Black Doula Collaborative, which will improve the health and well-being of women, infants, and birthing families.

The program will identify and train individuals who are trusted members of the community to provide doula services and help improve: prenatal care, raise breastfeeding rates, decrease unnecessary medical interventions, increase positive birth experiences, and improve parenting skills.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Rochester and Finger Lakes region maternal mortality is 51% higher for black moms than for white moms. Infant mortality is 300% higher for black babies than for white babies, according to the CDC.

Utilizing HealthConnect One’s proven “train the trainer” model, the program based at Healthy Baby Network and Finger Lakes Community Health will hire, onboard, and train doulas, which includes 16 community-based training sessions. FLPPS will fund six full-time equivalent doulas, which will serve 250 Black and Brown women. The program will develop referral pathways with healthcare systems and federally qualified health centers to facilitate care.

“I’m thrilled that FLPPS is partnering with these reputable organizations across the region that have deep expertise in addressing disparities. This innovative Doula program will provide vital support to ensure patient-centered care and better outcomes for mothers and babies in the Finger Lakes region,” said Carol Tegas, Executive Director of FLPPS.

“HealthConnect One’s community-based doula reputation program has achieved astounding results for nearly three decades, and we are proud to co-develop the Black Doula Collaborative with our partners in Rochester. Through our decades of experience, we know how critical culturally reflective, community-rooted doula support is for improving outcomes for Black babies and birthing people,” said Dr. Twylla Dillion, Executive Director of HealthConnect One.” With the workforce development elements of this program, we will build new career pathways for women from under-resourced communities where the need for doula support is greatest. Legislatively, there is a lot of motion nationally and within NYS to develop sustainable funding for community-based doulas through Medicaid doula reimbursement. This project will provide additional evidence in support of community-rooted doula support.”

“Healthy Baby Network’s Board and Staff are proud to partner with HealthConnect One, Finger Lakes Community Health, and the Finger Lakes Performing Provider System to innovate our Black Doula Collaborative as a hub for training Black Women to be Doulas and continuing to expand their work with health providers to bring lifesaving care and support for vulnerable Black pregnant and parenting women and their families,” said Sherita Bullock, Executive Director of Healthy Baby Network. “THIS is how we reduce and work to eliminate preventable Black Maternal Mortality and Morbidity in Rochester, NYS, and beyond.”

“We are excited to be a part of this work with FLPPS and our regional partners. Doulas provide emotional and physical support to our pregnant Moms who can be vulnerable to problems in pregnancy and birth. This program will positively benefit so many women in our region and help to ensure healthy maternal outcomes,” said Mary Zelazny, CEO of Finger Lakes Community Health.

Who We Are:

Finger Lakes Performing Provider System (FLPPS) is a network of clinical and community-based organizations across a 13-county region who work together to improve the Medicaid healthcare delivery system and support high-risk individuals and populations.

Healthy Baby Network ensures that every parent in our community has the information and support needed to bring a healthy baby into a nurturing home. Healthy Baby Network has 25 years of experience focused on a community-centered approach to supporting Black and Brown families during the perinatal period.

HealthConnect One is a nationally recognized leader employing community-based approaches to provide customized birth worker coaching, training, technical assistance, and program development services to our partners in the field of maternal and child health to support under-resourced communities and families.

Finger Lakes Community Health is a federally qualified health center serving the Finger Lakes region, providing comprehensive healthcare including medical, dental, behavioral, and reproductive health services.

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

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

Announcing the First Food Equity Project

Diversifying the breastfeeding lactation support workforce will reduce breastfeeding disparities among BIPOC communities.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE // July 30, 2021

Chicago, Illinois — Through $1.2 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, HealthConnect One will increase access to community-based peer-to-peer breastfeeding support, critical to increasing breastfeeding rates and driving down infant mortality rates in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.

Breastfeeding is critical to young children’s health. Yet, years of disinvestment and systemic racism within the health care system created an untenable situation for low-income Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened this inequity as our health care systems are being pushed to the brink. HealthConnect One continues to put communities in touch with their own strengths and skills to augment years of systemic racism and neglect through collaboration, shared learning, and ongoing support for community-led work.   

The First Food Equity Project aims to improve the initiation and duration of breastfeeding rates among low-income communities by expanding community-based, peer-to-peer support models that diversify both the maternal and child health workforces rooted in these communities. 

“For new parents and babies, nothing compares to having lactation support that is from your community and shares your cultural background. W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s generous grant for our First Food Equity project provides us with the outstanding opportunity to grow the community-rooted lactation support in communities across the nation where the need is the greatest,” said Dr. Twylla Dillion, executive director of HealthConnect One. “For the communities we are working with, the option to work with someone with shared lived experience can be life-changing.”

  • Increase breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration to improve mother and baby immunity and overall health.
  • Utilize the First Food Equity project to increase breastfeeding support by diverse, community-based peer-to-peer providers, resulting in increased breastfeeding rates.
  • Provide financial assistance and technical support for 15+ community-led initiatives and projects focused on increasing breastfeeding intention, initiation, and duration at six weeks.

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