Rally for Maternal Health

Contemporary OB/GYN Journal, Vol 66 No 3, Volume 66, Issue 03

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) is encouraging all its members to weave advocacy for maternal health and lives into their everyday work, even with the smallest steps, during its 41st Annual Pregnancy Meeting, being held virtually this week.

This is especially important as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken so many resources such as time and money. Maternal health and wellness should be front of mind.

During its live session “Rally for Maternal Health,” presenters Sindhu K. Srinivas, MD, Erika F. Werner, MD, and U.S. Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-Ill), emphasized the need for advocacy. Underwood last year joined with U.S. Congresswoman Alma Adams, then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, and members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus to introduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020. That package included nine bills to improve maternal health outcomes and to close the racial disparities in those outcomes. Included in that package was legislation to extend the coverage period of postpartum care under Medicaid from 60 days to 12 months.

However, as 2020 came to a close, legislation halted in the Senate.

Underwood said she is more optimistic than ever it will get passed in the current congress, but that action is needed by ob/gyns to amplify the urgency of such legislation. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020 includes legislation for the importance of maternal vaccinations; care of pregnant people and their babies amidst the pandemic; and impact of climate change. She will be able to introduce it in the next several weeks to the new Congress.

Interested ob/gyns can do several things to get involved, including working through SMFM’s state liaison network, and asking for the assistance of Becky Abbott, SMFM’s director of government relations. You can access advocacy information through SMFM by visiting this link.

You also can begin by contacting your local congresswomen or men and letting them know the importance of women’s health during pregnancy and in that precarious postpartum period – a dangerous part of the overall pregnancy experience that often is not given the consideration it should be given in modern society, especially for high-risk pregnant patients and their babies.

“It is more important than ever that we’re loud and persistent,” Srinivas said. “Being loud and persistent isn’t really as hard or take as much time as you think.”

SMFM also has its 2020-21 Maternal Mortality Scorecard, which Werner said is an ever-evolving project that originally began in 2018. Via this link, participants can help get the word out about the scorecard and help improve it. SMFM provides sample social media messages you can use to share the 2020-2021 Scorecard with your network.

Chris Pettker, MD, an editorial board member for Contemporary OB/GYN® and former chair of the Patient Safety and Quality Committee at SMFM, said that continued medical care in the year after birth can protect the health and lives of new mothers. 

“The data from state maternal mortality review committees suggest that many of the pregnancy-associated adverse events happen after insurance coverage for the pregnancy has expired (usually 6 to 8 weeks), but in the first year after childbirth,” he said. “Lack of medical coverage in this population is a major barrier to healthcare access, even in emergencies. For doctors and other clinicians that are thinking of becoming involved in advocacy, this is the area to do it, as the coverage usually comes from state decisions and the work can be done locally.”

As part of the presentation, SMFM officials showcased the story of Shalon Irving, an accomplished Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and a CDC epidemiologist, who had earned a dual doctorate in sociology and gerontology. She also was African American. Irving became pregnant in 2016. Three weeks after delivering her daughter via a planned C-section, Irving passed away. She had sought medical treatment many times during the postpartum period.

“She was dismissed,” says Wanda Irving, mother of Shalon Irving, during the presentation. “She knew she didn’t feel right. I was so concerned but I didn’t know what to do. I lost my vibrant, beautiful intelligent best friend and daughter because she wasn’t heard.”

Shalon Irving was 36 years old.

SMFM’s 41st Annual Pregnancy Meeting extends now through Jan. 30. To register, visit here.