A conversation with Dr. Dawn Godbolt, Maven’s Director of Health Equity
This Black Maternal Health Week, Maven is raising awareness of the ongoing Black maternal health crisis, and highlighting the necessary solutions to address factors that impact disparities in health outcomes. We sat down with Maven’s Director of Health Equity, Dr. Dawn Godbolt, to talk about the history of Black Maternal Health Week and why continuing and enriching the conversation around this is so important.
What is Black Maternal Health Week, and what is its purpose?
Dawn Godbolt: Black Maternal Health Week is a direct response to the ongoing maternal health crisis that disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous women. It's an effort that was founded, developed, and led by Black women. Black Maternal Health Week is an example of what it looks like to have an initiative led by community leaders. This is really important as a core concept of health equity: the recognition that those who are most impacted by the problems, also hold the solutions to address the problems. It’s a week of celebration and joy to showcase the work that Black women-led organizations and groups are doing across the country.
Can you share a bit about the history of Black Maternal Health Week?
DG: Black Maternal Health Week was developed by Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a coalition of Black birthing people and reproductive justice leaders across the country. Black Mamas Matter Alliance developed a series of policy recommendations to address the different facets of reproductive justice and the factors that contribute to the Black maternal health crisis.
Reproductive justice is the human right to bodily autonomy, the right to have a child or to not have a child, and the right to raise children in safe and sustainable communities. When we add that third piece, we go beyond the typical narratives around access to reproductive health care. Instead, we use a structural approach that highlights the ways that systems and policy should work together to build the type of environment where Black moms and babies can thrive.
You were involved in the early stages of Black Maternal Health Week. Can you tell us about what that experience was like?
DG: I had the distinct honor of supporting Black Maternal Health Week while I worked at the National Partnership for Women and Families. When trying to raise awareness, the press did a really great job of highlighting the crisis and we had some dynamic movement-builders on the ground who were raising the flag.
And then in 2019, newly elected Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14) came to Congress with a clear goal. Representative Underwood was motivated by the tragic loss of her dear friend, Dr. Shalon Irving, a Black woman who held a Ph.D. in Public Health and worked as a Lieutenant Commander in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. When we're thinking about this crisis, one thing to understand is that wealth, education, insurance status, and income are not protective factors for Black women. This is clear in the devastating case of Dr. Shalon Irving—despite holding a doctorate and two master's degrees, despite working in the U.S. Public Health Service, and despite her training in health care, Irving died from the very forces she worked to correct. It's the story that we hear about too many Black women. So when Congresswoman Underwood went to Congress, her top priority was to address Black maternal health inequities. She formed the Black Maternal Health Caucus, of which I was a stakeholder.
From there, the idea emerged to build a comprehensive legislative package, called the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, that incorporates reproductive justice and everything Black women-led groups are asking for. It’s a legislative package of twelve bills, developed with input from Black OBGYNS, Black midwives, Black doulas, Black maternal health advocates, and Black birthing people. With a champion in Congress, the week has morphed and developed into something really, really special.
In 2018 Congress introduced the first Black Maternal Health Resolution, and in 2022, the White House acknowledged Black Maternal Health Week for the second year in a row. So we've seen a lot of gains from our allies—people who listened to Black women, who trusted Black women, and who’ve said, “What can we do differently to really make an impact?”
Can you tell us about the work that Maven is doing to drive outcomes and ensure that our Black members have positive birth experiences?
DG: At its core, Maven has health equity embedded into our model. We take a scientific approach to health equity which is at the core of our model. We lead with data: we’re very proud of our ability to ascertain race and ethnicity data from about two-thirds of our member population. Routine and standardized data collection is a pillar of health equity, but it can often be a challenge for the traditional healthcare system. Our data collection process allows us to really understand who our members are, which facilitates a tailored person-centered approach to care delivery. Maven is committed to addressing gaps in care for vulnerable populations and our model has multiple methods to help reduce disparities in maternal health care. We collect information about our members’ social determinants of health through our validated social needs screener and risk assessments during the enrollment process. On top of that, the structure of our company, the diversity of our provider network, our care matching process, our targeted clinical programs, and the training of our staff in implicit bias and trauma-informed care all lead to higher utilization of Maven’s services in efforts to drive equitable outcomes.
The reality is that our Black members are more likely to have medical and social risk factors, even in an employer-based benefits program. And we also see much higher utilization of Maven’s services among this population. There are two major takeaways from this: one, we understand the protective factors that are usually going to impact or lead to better health outcomes don't exist for Black women. Two, Black birthing people want and utilize specialized, culturally-relevant care. The number of Black birth workers is really small— only 11.1% of OB-GYNS, 10% of doulas, and 6.8% of midwives are Black. Our Black members’ utilization of specialists across the platform demonstrates the need for digital health solutions like Maven to fill gaps in the traditional healthcare system.
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