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Science in Action: Collaborating in Georgia to Improve Black Maternal Health

The Health of Women team within the Office of the Chief Medical Officer at Johnson & Johnson is working to transform maternal healthcare through science- and evidence-based approaches. In Georgia, we are partnering with academic institutions, researchers, community organizations and maternal health leaders to unify our efforts in supporting maternal healthcare services in Georgia communities.

A Dangerous Place for Pregnant Women—Especially Black Women

More than half the counties in Georgia have no obstetric services, with 43% of hospital labor and delivery units closing in the past 20 years. Women have to travel long distances to give birth safely; since no rural counties have maternal-fetal medical experts, nearly two-thirds of rural births occur outside the home county of the mother.

The prevalence of maternity care deserts in Georgia has contributed to its ranking as one of the most dangerous places in the U.S. to give birth, especially for Black women. Compared to national U.S. statistics, women in Georgia are 52% more likely to die in the first year after giving birth—at 25.9 deaths per 100,000 lives—with the majority of deaths occurring during the post-partum period. Black women living in rural counties have double the maternal mortality rate of rural white women.

The confluence of health inequities with a lack of maternal health infrastructure imposes additional challenges to already overburdened frontline healthcare workers and healthcare providers, which in turn worsens the maternal health crisis.

New Programs Aim to Improve Black Maternal Healthcare

Along with clinicians, researchers and health advocates, the Health of Women team with funding from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer is developing an integrated approach to reducing Black maternal mortality. Ideally, programs are co-created or influenced by women and broadly engage healthcare providers and the community. To date, we are engaged in multiple programs underway, which include:

  • Georgia Maternal Health Research for Action Steering Committee (GMHRA–SC) – A partnership with the Center for Maternal Health Equity at the Morehouse School of Medicine, the GMHRA-SC brings together researchers, clinicians, policy experts and community leaders to align on an inclusive, actionable, sustainable and scalable evidence and community-based approach to improve maternal health outcomes for Black mothers in Georgia. The GMHRA–SC is working to transform maternal healthcare for Black mothers in Georgia through science-based, ethical and medically appropriate care.
  • PM3 – A mobile technology developed for and by Black women, Indigenous women and other women of color, PM3 stands for Prevent Maternal Mortality Mobile Technology. This postpartum mobile app will aim to reduce morbidity and mortality by increasing self-management during this critical period. It may also enable assessment of postpartum management in high-risk populations. The project is a partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, Emory School of Nursing and Georgia Tech.
  • Ethnographic Research Studies – In partnership with Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, two studies are currently underway to use social listening to understand mothers’ and healthcare providers’ perceptions of telehealth for maternity care. The research is focused on (1) unique concerns of Black mothers and their impressions of remote monitoring and telemedicine and (2) challenges healthcare providers face in delivering maternal care in Georgia—on the front lines and remotely—perceptions and concerns with prenatal care and telehealth, remote monitoring and a postpartum app.
  • Telehealth to Improve Black Maternal Health – A partnership with Emory Decatur Hospital and BabyLiveAdvice aims to improve maternal health by building a “physician extender” network. Pregnant women have access to a team of frontline health workers including nurses, health educators and doulas, who provide live support for individuals and group settings. Women will receive care weekly through this partnership.

Our partners in Georgia are committed to a science-based approach to health care and community solutions. Data supporting our proposed solutions are critical to advocate for changing a fragmented health system and building an ecosystem free of social injustice and discrimination.

Together with community-based organizations, the team is on the ground listening and responding to Black mothers and health care providers to apply new perspectives to the worsening US maternal mortality crisis. A proven, replicable model can be uniquely applied to other high-risk states, helping Black women achieve their chosen journey into motherhood and empowering healthcare providers with the tools to ensure a healthy outcome for mother and baby.

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