At Unite Us, we want to empower every individual to advocate for healthier communities. In our latest blog series, Advocating for Community, we highlight key issues facing the populations we serve across the country, describe how we address those needs, and call on others to take concrete actions in support of this work. Our first post takes on a topic critical to community strength: maternal and child health and well-being.
Drivers of Health for Women and Children
There is no question that addressing maternal and child well-being is foundational to improving the overall health and well-being of our entire population. When women and children are healthy, their communities are healthy, too.
Despite this truth, health outcomes for women and children are trending in the wrong direction. The rising rates of maternal and infant mortality underscore the urgency of prioritizing this issue, particularly for populations that are disproportionately affected by social and structural drivers of health. Heartbreakingly, maternal mortality rates rose sharply in 2021, continuing a disturbing trend we’ve observed since 2018. And while infant mortality rates remained largely unchanged from 2020 to 2021, they are still far too high. The United States is a marked outlier on both counts, with maternal mortality rates three times higher than the average across industrialized nations and infant mortality rates that rank 33rd out of the 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These outcomes also illustrate a health equity crisis demanding immediate attention: The maternal mortality rate is more than 2.5 times higher among Black women than among White women.
The reasons for these disparities are multi-faceted. The reality is that many factors contribute to maternal and infant mortality, with drivers of health—particularly economic and social conditions, interpersonal relationships, and environmental factors—playing a significant role. Women, particularly Black and Native American women and those living in poverty, are disproportionately affected by adverse drivers of health, as well as the structural factors that cause them.
For example, Black women are more likely than White women to experience poverty, live in neighborhoods with limited access to healthy food options, and face limited access to healthcare services. These factors contribute to a much higher risk of developing chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity—all of which are risk factors for maternal and infant mortality. To achieve equity in maternal and child health outcomes and create a healthier society overall, addressing drivers of health as well as the deeper conditions that underpin them is essential.
Addressing Maternal and Child Well-Being
While the issue of maternal and child health is urgent and alarming, there is hope. The good news is that there are policies and programs that can address these disparities and help moms and babies live happier, healthier lives. When we improve access to affordable healthcare, invest in wrap-around social services, promote access to healthy food and safe housing, increase funding for maternal and child health programs, and focus on equity, we see better outcomes.
Here at Unite Us, we’re proud to partner with leaders in healthcare, government, and community-based organizations across the country to fight the maternal health crisis. This Maternal Mental Health Month, we celebrated our partners contributing to this work across the country, and we welcomed new partners as we recommitted ourselves to achieving a world of healthy moms and healthy babies.
At Unite Us, we’re committed to:
- Supporting a whole-person approach to the maternal health continuum by continuing to expand the support we provide to women and their children before, during, and after pregnancy. We understand the importance of connecting clinical and non-clinical services, including obstetricians, midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, government benefit programs, transportation assistance, and other programs and providers. Addressing drivers of health is integral to improving maternal and child outcomes and promoting healthy communities.
- Formalizing partnerships with home visiting programs across the country, supporting the important work they do with seamless, closed-loop referral capabilities. These programs play a critical role in ensuring the health and well-being of moms and babies by providing essential services such as breastfeeding support, counseling, and education. By formalizing partnerships, Unite Us can provide specialized support to these programs, such as closed-loop referral capabilities. This will streamline coordination and improve communication between home visiting programs and healthcare providers, contributing to better health outcomes for mothers and children across the country.
- Using data-driven insights to inform action by identifying gaps in services and disparities in access and outcomes. Unite Us can work with its partners to address these issues at a systemic level. For instance, by identifying areas where there is a lack of access to specific family support services, Unite Us can work with local healthcare providers to improve access to these vital services. Similarly, by identifying disparities in outcomes, Unite Us can support advocacy efforts and programmatic interventions that will reduce these disparities and improve overall health outcomes for moms and babies. By providing our partners data-driven insights to inform their strategies, we can keep making progress in the fight for maternal and child health and well-being.
To build on these efforts, Unite Us calls on communities to:
- Encourage more states to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage: States now have the permanent option to extend postpartum coverage for 12 months after pregnancy. Taking this option would reduce barriers to healthcare and, in some cases, support women’s access to wrap-around care to address health-related social needs during the crucial postpartum period.
- Expand the maternal health workforce by increasing access to paying doulas and community health workers (CHWs): States have adopted a range of mechanisms to pay these trusted members of the community and should continue to explore ways to support CHWs and doulas. Community-based doula support holds particular significance for individuals who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), who more commonly distrust medical establishments due to historical and direct experiences of disrespect and racism from providers.
- Screen for physical health, mental health, and social needs at key points throughout the pregnancy and postpartum period: Providers must identify needs beginning at the very first prenatal appointment and connect individuals to local resources to address those needs during and after their pregnancy. Screenings and referrals for maternal depression, including during maternal and infant medical visits, are a key part of postpartum care.
Our shared work is just getting started. Will you join us?
About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.