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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Panel to discuss maternal, infant mortality

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Every year, nearly 100 Hoosier women die during or shortly after childbirth. Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die giving birth, with 53 out of 100,000 Black Hoosiers dying every year. While these numbers are lower than they have been in years, Indiana ranks as the third-worse state for infant and maternal mortality in the country.

Representatives of Women4Change Indiana think they can help change that.

On May 26, the coalition helping to get more women involved in local politics will host a virtual event, “Listen, Connect, Participate: Maternal Health and Infant Mortality.” Hosted by Women4Change advocate Velvet Miller, the panel will include conversations with state Rep. Vanessa Summers, Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box and Lucia Guerra-Reyes, associate professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health.

Miller, a retired nurse and former health care administrator, also started the group Not One More, dedicated to preventing infant and maternal mortality. Sixty percent of maternal mortality cases, she said, are preventable.

“What we’ve realized [throughout the pandemic] is there are huge disparities in maternal mortality all over the place,” Miller said. “There are disparities based on socioeconomic levels, education levels, it doesn’t matter. But the disparities for Black women are even more significant, and we’re starting to really acknowledge that.”

Infant and maternal mortality have been key focus areas for several members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC), of which Summers, D-Indianapolis, is a member. She and IBLC member Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, proposed three pieces of legislation related to the issue last legislative cycle. None of the bills received a hearing. Miller said the predominately white, male state legislature seems “satisfied” with Indiana’s dismal mortality rates. She said community members must pressure legislators to take action, but Summers isn’t sure how to convince the majority of state legislators that the issue is important.

“I’m stumped,” Summers said. “I think we have to keep bringing it in front of them. … We lose close to 100 mothers every year. That’s 100 babies without a mother. I would hope [legislators] realize they all came from a mother and realize why we need to be addressing this issue.”

Summers is hopeful President Joe Biden’s recent action — which includes $200 million for pregnancy home programs and to bolster Maternal Mortality Review Committees, among other things — will put pressure on legislators to take maternal mortality more seriously next legislative session.

“We know the money is there. We just need to make sure it’s being used to make sure mamas are taken care of,” Summers said.

Both Summers and Miller know, however, that pregnant women need more than health care professionals by their side. Reducing maternal mortality, they said, will require communities to work together. Making sure women in your community have access to transportation, prenatal care and healthy foods, Miller said, can help ensure women have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

Miller said she hopes everyone, not just expecting mothers, can learn something from the panel.

“We need to talk about ways we can save our moms and what everyone can do to minimize the statistics,” Miller said. “A mom dying in childbirth doesn’t just affect her family, it affects the whole community.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

The free “Listen, Connect, Participate” panel will be streamed at 6:30 p.m. May 26 on the Women4Change Indiana Facebook page. To register, click here.

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