Massachusetts is often touted as a beacon of cutting-edge innovation, forward-thinking policies and progressive values. Boston is at the center of this, serving as a hub of world-renowned institutions spanning health care, academia and business. However, these accolades distract from the region’s continued inability to solve longstanding inequities. These disparities inevitably have a disproportionate impact on the health of Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, particularly for women.
Despite being one of the wealthiest states in the country, Massachusetts has a poor track record of caring for BIPOC women and their children. In Massachusetts, Black women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes compared to white women. In Boston, Black infants are twice as likely to die before their first birthday compared to their white counterparts — infant death rates for residents of the predominantly Black neighborhood of Roxbury are nearly four times that of nearby, predominantly white Brookline. Time is of the essence, as maternal morbidity is worsening dramatically and disproportionately for Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women nationwide.
Solving the ongoing maternal health crisis cannot be accomplished without a modernized, multi-lateral approach. Most policies today aim to address the symptoms of institutional racism rather than the root causes. Instead, policies that meaningfully address social determinants of health through innovation and promote public-private partnerships will be the most effective way to address maternal care inequities.
Gov. Baker’s maternal health coalition is an important and impactful step, and as the commonwealth decides on a new governor in November, we must encourage our leaders at every level to put in place proven approaches that drive meaningful and sustainable change.
Creating a dedicated maternal health innovation council would accelerate the adoption of proven technologies. During the pandemic, harmful maternal health policies were enacted, which could have been partially avoided by leveraging technology to solve underlying inequities. For example, Massachusetts limited the number of visitors and delayed prenatal visits, which inadvertently created a health risk, especially for BIPOC women. Instead, Massachusetts could fund visiting nurses to enable mothers to receive fetal non-stress tests at home, which is a widely adopted approach in Europe and other states in the U.S. When the formula crisis hit, a maternal health innovation committee could have organized a partnership with relevant companies in the private sector, like Lyft or Uber, to deliver infant formula to mothers who have limited transportation options.
Furthermore, many BIPOC mothers in Massachusetts experience increased stress from racism. They don’t feel that they’re heard by their care providers, leading to adverse outcomes. A maternal health committee could leverage existing public health and human services data, like claims information, to identify mothers most at risk. Similarly, by creating person-centered health care portals that enable access to care at mothers’ fingertips — a digital front door to access transportation benefits, mental health treatment, lactation consultants and more — families would be empowered to find the care they need directly.
Having had an at-risk pregnancy myself, I know firsthand how difficult it is to do the simple things. I empathize with parents who, on top of all of that, face systemic barriers that limit flexibility and access to quality care many of us take for granted. We cannot continue to ignore the maternal health and other systemic disparities BIPOC communities face each day. In a region renowned for its industry leadership and innovation, we must apply these strengths in underserved areas.
Veronica Adamson is the general manager of Human Services and Public Health at Gainwell. She previously led Philips Global Obstetrics Monitoring Solutions business, one of the world’s leading fetal and maternal solution businesses.