D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (right) hosts the city's first Maternal and Infant Health Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Sept. 12. Cathy Hughes (left), Urban One, Inc. founder and chair, and Valerie B. Jarrett, former senior adviser for the Obama administration, participate in a conversation on perinatal health and racial disparities in birth outcomes. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, just four months into parenthood with the adoption of a newborn named Miranda Elizabeth, welcomed six fellow African-American female mayors from across the country to the District this month for the first Maternal and Infant Health Summit.

Bowser and Mayors Karen Freeman-Wilson (Gary, Ind.), Toni N. Harp (New Haven, Conn.), Vi Lyles (Charlotte, N.C.), Catherine Pugh (Baltimore), Lovely A. Warren (Rochester, N.Y.) and Karen Weaver (Flint, Mich.) are working with experts to develop a nationwide agenda that addresses the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality experienced by people of color in D.C. and across the nation.

”By working together, we can move closer to ensuring all women have access to high-quality health care before, during and after childbirth,” Bowser said.

The Sept. 12 summit, which was free and open to the public, was an opportunity for elected officials, health experts and D.C. residents to have a focused conversation regarding perinatal health and racial disparities in birth outcomes. The event featured panel discussions and a luncheon geared towards articulating and sharing best practices for infant and maternal health.

”One of the major things that we did in Flint is that we got the Medicaid expanded to age 21 and for all pregnant women,” Weaver said. “Why should you have to have a water crisis to have comprehensive medical services? These are things that we should have and that should stay in place countrywide.”

Although Washingtonians have the DC Healthy Families program that provides free health insurance to city residents, the rate at which women die of pregnancy-related causes “is higher in D.C. than in any state in the country,” federal data shows.

The DC Healthy Families program covers doctor visits, vision and dental care, prescription drugs, hospital stays and transportation for appointments. The program also offers special programs for newborn babies, children with disabilities or special health care needs.

“Mothers who receive prenatal care within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy have healthier pregnancies,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Black women are more than three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women.”

A pregnant woman’s past or present exposure to lead puts her unborn baby at risk. When she breathes in or swallows lead, it goes into her blood. Once the lead is in the bloodstream, it passes through the placenta to the baby and into the baby’s developing bones and other organs.

“We started a lead registry in Flint of individuals who have been exposed to lead and referred them to services that are available for them,” Weaver said. “We inspected the lead service lines to lower the amount of lead in our water. No lead is good lead.”

A major key strategy to help expecting mothers that have access to high-quality health care is to properly educate families on how to use those services.

“It is important that families know when to go to the doctor versus going to the emergency room,” said Dr. Hugh E. Mighty of Howard University. “Some women don’t know where to go to deliver their babies.”

Bowser announced that her administration and the George Washington University Hospital are collaborating to improve access to high-quality health care services for Washingtonians, specifically for residents in Wards 7 and 8 who are currently without a community hospital. A new hospital is expected to open in Ward 8 in 2023.

Washingtonians also have the DC Healthy People 2020 Framework that is being put in place as a shared community agenda to help guide the city’s multi-sector and collaborative efforts to improve population health in the District.

“It is our hope that stakeholders and community members will use the framework and this report to support shared goals, facilitate cross-sector collaboration and to align our work to achieve health equity,” said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health.

Many women are concerned about returning to the workforce after childbirth due to child care costs, which Bowser addressed in the city’s fiscal year 2019 budget by earmarking $12.5 million to help make early child care more affordable for all District residents.

“When I had my daughter I was a lawyer with many resources and I still felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips,” said former White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who participated in the summit. “I thought, ‘If I am hanging on be my fingertips, what’s it like for that single mom who is working two shifts and has no support at home and can’t afford quality child care?’

“Our country should be able to provide affordable child care for every single child in this country,” Jarrett said. “It is cost prohibitive. It would help to have a federal policy that would make it more affordable.”

A great part of getting government policy change for D.C. is increasing the voice in the House of Representatives.

“We don’t have two senators voting for us in D.C. and that has to change,” Bowser said.

For more information, go to dcmaternalhealth.com.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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