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WMCHealth Establishes New Center to Address Maternal Morbidity and Mortality

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   June 30, 2023

The Center for Women's Health Equity has received a $750,000 grant from New York State.

Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) has launched the Center for Women's Health Equity to address maternal morbidity and mortality across New York State's Hudson Valley.

In several reports, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate compared to other developed countries—a report from The Commonwealth Fund found the United States had the worst maternal mortality rate compared to 10 other developed countries. U.S. maternal mortality is particularly problematic for Black women. In 2021, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was 2.6 times the rate for White women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

The Center for Women's Health Equity is designed to address a pressing need, says Sean Tedjarati, MD, MPH, MBA, director of obstetrics and gynecology at Westchester Medical Center.

"Despite the advances we have made, we now have the highest maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States in 65 years. Clearly, that by itself denotes the reason why we should have this kind of center that is going to bridge the gaps. We have made great discoveries and great advances, but we are not getting them to the right people who need care. The United States spends 20% of its gross domestic product on healthcare, and we should not have the type of maternal morbidity and mortality that we have, especially in underserved communities and among women of color," he says.

The primary goals of the Center for Women's Health Equity are to marshal resources in the health system and develop community partnerships, Tedjarati says.

"The goal is to bring all the talent and resources that we have under one roof and in an integrated manner. We want to improve communication and coordination. We want to bridge gaps and make sure patients have access to care. We also want to develop community resources and partnerships in order for both the health system and the communities it serves to have the same vision of making sure that the type of care that needs to get to the population gets there. The center brings everything together. It is like air traffic control. You may have great pilots coming into an airport, but without interconnectedness and communication, all you would have is crashes, which is what we are having in our maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States," he says.

The Center for Women's Health Equity will have operations at Westchester Medical Center in Westchester County and HealthAlliance Hospital in Ulster County. The program, which was formally launched yesterday, was established with the help of a $750,000 grant from New York State.

Tedjarati says the center will be built on five pillars: clinical integration, education, research, advocacy, and technology. "Those pillars will allow us to put a pebble in the foundation of building something that will ultimately reduce the burdens of our patients. We are not going to change all of society, but we can change our sphere of influence," he says.

The center will help lead efforts to address mothers' determinants of health, Tedjarati says. "The way we address determinants of health is through our community partnerships and our advocacy within the state. We want to talk about some of the economic issues that women may be having. We want to address issues such as transportation, which is an issue that allows women to have access to healthcare. We want to advocate for longer Medicaid coverage of postpartum care."

The center will be staffed with existing healthcare workers at the health system and dedicated employees, he says.

"The first thing we have done is started a collaboration between our maternal-fetal medicine specialists and our cardiologists. We are bringing them under the same roof so they can see patients together in an integrated model. Similar to what we do in cancer, when we bring different specialties under one roof, patients get better care. We will have a dedicated staff as well. We have already hired a program coordinator who is going to be involved in seeing that this program gets off the ground. We will have staff that will be working with the maternal-fetal medicine department because a lot of the work on maternal morbidity and mortality will be coming from that department. We are in the process of hiring dedicated therapists and social workers. As we build out our capacity, the staff will grow."

Related: Addressing Maternal Mortality Through Cardiovascular Care

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.

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