Columbus, Ohio (April 15, 2024) This April 11 through 17 marks the seventh annual observance of Black Maternal Health Week in the U.S. I don’t say “celebration” because the facts, unfortunately, are dire: Not only do Black women in America continue to be much more likely than women overall to die of pregnancy-related causes, but maternal mortality has actually grown much worse in the past quarter century. A study published in the journal JAMA last year found that maternal mortality — which the study defines as death during pregnancy or up to a year afterward — more than doubled between 1999 and 2019.  

While the burden was borne by women of all racial and ethnic groups, there were disparities. Black women, in particular, had higher rates of maternal mortality than other races.  

The rate at which Black women die during and after pregnancy calls for urgent action. That’s why I’m proud that the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is stepping up with $5.6 million in active grants in Ohio to improve pregnancy outcomes for Black women and address disparities that disproportionately impact Black women and their families. 

Most recently, we awarded grants totaling $1.5 million to five organizations: two in Cleveland, one in Columbus, one in Cincinnati and one in Kent. These are community-based groups that have demonstrated the ability to make a difference in this critical challenge to the well-being of women of color and their families. Here’s a quick sketch of the grants and how they’ll be used: 

  • Spirit of Motherhood, Kent State University (three-year, $300,000): Working with community-based groups in Cleveland, Canton and Akron, the program uses cognitive-behavior interventions to reduce stress and trauma in pregnant mothers with post-traumatic stress disorder, which Black mothers are four times as likely to experience as non-Black mothers. The grant will help pay for more interventionists, allowing the program to serve 20 additional mothers and up to 40 of their preschool-aged children.  
  • Birthing Beautiful Communities, Cleveland (two-year, $500,000): The group’s Perinatal Support Program provides professional doulas to help mothers and their families through pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. The doulas offer emotional support as well as physical and educational help, including lactation support, parenting workshops, healthy eating, life planning and more. 
  • The Centers, Cleveland (two-year, $250,000): Cuyahoga County has one of the nation’s highest rates of poverty and among the worst birth outcomes in the nation. The grant will bolster the organization’s comprehensive health and wellness services with additional supports to foster improved outcomes for mothers and babies.  
  • Homes for Families (formerly Homeless Families Foundation), Columbus (three-year, $300,000): The grant will create a Pregnancy Program Emergency Fund to provide services that aren’t typically funded by housing grants, such as access to food, transportation and child care.
  • Every Child Succeeds, Cincinnati (three-year, $150,000): According to the March of Dimes, Cincinnati’s rate of preterm births, at 12%, is higher than that of Ohio and the nation, both at 10%. Every Child Succeeds provides evidence-based home visits to support maternal health equity and optimize child development from the prenatal stage to age three. 

It should be clear from these programs that a newborn’s well-being is profoundly linked to that of its mother. The grants recognize that it’s extremely difficult for either to thrive amid the stress associated with poverty, housing insecurity, trauma from physical or sexual assault, and systemic racism. 

While it’s unclear exactly why America has higher maternal mortality rates than other wealthy countries in spite of the fact that we spend far more on healthcare, research and experience tell us that inequities in the healthcare system lie at the root. We’re taking aim at those inequities, working to remove the barriers that Black women face and raise awareness of the need for change.  

Every woman deserves the opportunity to experience pregnancy and childbirth as the joyful experiences they’re meant to be. No one should be afraid because her race or ethnicity stacks the cards against her and her baby. We at Anthem are excited to help these community partners make a vital and necessary difference. 

Ohio Association of Health Plans | Dr. Bradley Jackson, Plan Performance Medical Director at Anthem BCBS Ohio Medicaid