New Center at the University of Pennsylvania to Address Racial Gap in Maternal Health

The University of Pennsylvania recently became home to the inaugural March of Dimes Research Center for Advancing Maternal Health Equity. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Howell, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology in the Perelman School of Medicine, the center will leverage the university’s research, technology, and partnerships to address racial disparities in maternal health outcomes — both deaths and serious medical complications — in the United States.

Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women in the United States, which has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country and the problem is getting worse.

A recent report from the Philadelphia Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that 80 percent of maternal deaths were among those who identified as Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Of those individuals, 80 percent were people who had identified social and structural barriers to health, such as mental health issues, substance use disorders, and lack of prenatal care.

The new center will facilitate basic, clinical, and policy research projects that develop and test maternal care models aimed at enhancing equity. In the center’s first year, March of Dimes is funding two specific projects:

1. Delivering postpartum care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU): In partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia clinicians will study whether delivering postpartum care in the NICU could improve outcomes for at-risk parents.

2. Integrated doula care delivery model: Through a collaboration with the nonprofit Cocolife, this research project will use qualitative interviews and focus groups to develop a model for integrating doulas into hospital-based maternity care.

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