The March for Moms Association – a national coalition of stakeholders advocating for better maternal care for women – May 11 will host its third annual march in Washington, D.C., to underscore the critical importance of improving maternal health outcomes. 

Leaders from AHA member hospitals and health systems are flying in for the march to advocate for additional funding for research on women’s health. Kristine Bell, executive director for women and children’s service at Providence St. Joseph’s Health in Oregon – a sponsor of the march – plans to attend. 

“I’m going [to the march] because I have spent my professional life trying to make the system of care better for moms and families,” said Bell, who also serves as chair of AHA’s Maternal and Child Health Council. “This is a really important time to be present and support moms.”  

Bell said that she feels “heartbroken” that maternal morbidity has increased recently and stressed the importance of the march. 

“We need to be there as women, fellow moms and leaders in health care,” said Bell. “We have an opportunity to listen and learn from the stories of impacted families. This will help us continuously improve the system of care and address access, practice and disparity issues.”

Providence St. Joseph Health, like many other hospitals and health systems, has implemented evidence-based practices for managing obstetric hemorrhage and hypertension, two of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. 

“In Oregon, we have partnered with Multnomah County to decrease perinatal racial disparities for African American women,” Bell continued. “Together we can rapidly move to a place of wellbeing for moms in the U.S.” 

The AHA and its member hospitals and health systems are committed to improving maternal health. The AHA was an early partner in the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health and has championed reducing early-elective deliveries, unnecessary caesarian sections, obstetric hemorrhage and preeclampsia, substance use disorders in pregnancy and neonatal abstinence syndrome. And the AHA’s Better Health for Mothers and Babies initiative provides tools and resources on the full continuum of care – prenatal, in hospital and postpartum – to hospitals and health systems.

Urging Congress to enact policies to help improve maternal health

Bell hopes that partnering with other organizations to advocate for appropriate care for mothers sends a clear message to Congress that more needs to be done. 

“I think we have a responsibility to do that, and that’s a legacy I certainly want for my daughters,” Bell said. “I think that’s something everybody in this country should get behind in any way that makes sense for them.” 

Part of improving outcomes for mothers and babies requires policy changes and legislation, said Maribeth McLaughlin, R.N., vice president of operations at UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. A UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital team also is planning to join the march. 

McLaughlin, a former chair of AHA’s Maternal and Child Health Council, stressed the importance of urging Congress to protect patients’ access to rural and critical access hospitals. She also stressed the importance of maintaining funding for programs offered to help women experiencing opioid-related issues and babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome. 

To address these challenges, the state has formed the Pennsylvania Perinatal Quality Collaborative, a coalition focused on maternal morbidity and mortality and improving neonatal outcomes, particularly those affected by opioid use disorders. 

The AHA recently expressed its support for provisions of H.R. 1897/ S. 916, the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA’s) Act. The AHA-supported provisions include improving data collection, disseminating best practices, funding an Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health grant program, funding state-based perinatal quality collaboratives (like Pennsylvania’s), extending postpartum coverage for women enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, addressing implicit bias and cultural competency and extending supplemental nutrition services for women. 

Implementing hospital and system-wide measures to protect mothers, babies

UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital has implemented two noteworthy initiatives aimed at addressing maternal health outcomes with an emphasis on fighting addiction. UPMC Magee created its Pregnancy Recovery Center, a medical home model of treating opioid use disorder in pregnant women, which has produced such positive outcomes that it now is expanding across western Pennsylvania to other hospitals in the UPMC system. 

Leaders at UPMC Magee also are working to implement a partner unit specifically for mothers and babies who have neonatal abstinence syndrome, using buprenorphine treatment, behavioral health counseling and social services, as well as expanding care to pregnant and postpartum women with opioid use disorders. They also have begun a project that involves physicians remotely monitoring hypertension among pregnant and postpartum women. 

“We are seeing great compliance with these patients, as we are able to stay closely connected with them doing follow up monitoring of blood pressure and adjusting medications as necessary,” McLaughlin said. 

Bell said the time to act is now. 

“I think now is the time where we have a voice and a platform and we have the attention of this nation,” she said. “We need to use it wisely in order to really advance this quickly and make some significant inroads.” 

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