NYC Public Advocate To Introduce Maternal Health Legislative Package

July 29th, 2021

Press Release

NEW YORK: Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams will introduce a package of legislation today aimed at supporting maternal health and wellness and particularly targeted at reducing Black maternal mortality and pervasive maternal health disparities.  This legislation includes measures for both during and post-pregnancy, and is a model for ways in which local legislatures can combat maternal mortalities and maternal health inequities and injustices. It also includes a resolution calling for further federal action and funding.

"Black maternal mortality and morbidity is a health crisis, one that is inexcusably under-acknowledged and tragically under-addressed. The challenges and inequities of maternal health persist throughout and post-pregnancy, and we must address it at all stages, " said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. "On a federal level, we need aggressive funding and research to combat this disparity and save lives - but localities can lead the way. Through the creation of a maternal health bill of rights with dedicated and sustained outreach to inform people of those rights, we can help ensure that rights are respected, requests heard, and resources granted. And when someone is ready to return to work, we need to make that pathway clear and minimize barriers to reentry. These bills are common sense, and their impact could be lifesaving."

The first bill, Intro 2370, establishes a maternal health bill of rights, and provides that pregnant individuals are informed of those rights. It would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), together with the Commission on Human Rights, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and community organizations, to create a public education campaign in facilities that provide obstetric and gynecological care informing patients about the City Standards for Respectful Care at Birth, the right to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, and health care proxy forms. The legislation would also require DOHMH to inform patients about the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and New York's paid family leave program through promotional materials at their locations. Information is essential to  body autonomy and empowering people to seek the care they deserve, and being informed of ones' rights gives power to pregnant individuals as patients and as employees.

Intro 2369 is aimed at addressing inequities and issues that primarily arise post-pregnancy, related to re-entry in the workplace. It would require employers to hold an onboarding meeting to discuss an employee's reintegration back into the workplace after parental leave, under guidance from the NYC Commission on Human Rights. The employer would hold this meeting with every employee who returns from parental leave within two weeks of their return, with the goal of improving the reintegration process for the employer and employee. Employees returning from parental or medical leave are often disadvantaged upon their return to work, lacking critical information about changes to the workplace or projects that have occurred while they were away. This bill would help correct that information gap.

The maternal health legislative package also includes a resolution calling on Congress to pass and the President to sign the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. The federal legislation would provide grant funding for maternal health research, fund community based organizations focused on Black maternal health, and invest in a wide range of tools to improve maternal health outcomes, particularly in underserved areas and among marginalized groups. The Act also would also ensure continuity of health insurance coverage for the duration of labor, delivery, and postpartum care.

Maternal health is an issue of racial inequity. In New York City, Black women are 8 to 12 times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts. This is often rooted in medical personnel overlooking, minimizing or dismissing health concerns of Black patients. Action on these issues is decades overdue, and while the current administration has taken some steps to address this inequity, maternal mortality and morbidity remains a problem - especially for Black women and pregnant persons.

"It is clear that the systems in place are failing pregnant people of more color - a failure as staggering as it is inexcusable," added Public Advocate Williams. "The pain of Black women like Sha-Asia Washington or Amber Rose Isaac is less likely to be believed, more likely to be dismissed, and far too often ignored by providers and politicians alike."

The ongoing tragedy of Black maternal mortality and health inequities has been repeatedly realized in New York City. In July of 2020 a 26 year old woman, Sha-Asia Washington, lost her life when she suffered cardiac arrest after her doctors induced labor. Just three months earlier, Amber Rose Isaac died during an emergency C-section.

"Maternal mortality is an epidemic in our country that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stress, isolation, inadequate access to health care, and socioeconomic inequities have negatively impacted maternal health this past year, and we must do everything in our power to support women throughout pregnancy and before, during, and after childbirth," said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "I am proud to join Public Advocate Jumaane Williams who is working diligently in New York City to end inequities in maternal health care and establish a maternal health bill of rights. I will be a fierce partner in the Senate and will always fight to ensure that every mother in New York and across the country receives high-quality health care regardless of race or socioeconomic status."

"Black Americans were one of the hardest-hit communities during this pandemic, and Black and Hispanic mothers accounted for a majority of COVID-19 cases among pregnant women in the United States," said Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke. "That is why it is so important for us to raise awareness of Black Maternal Health and the maternal mortality and morbidity epidemic Black mothers face. As it stands, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of all developed nations, a crisis that puts Black birthing people, especially at risk. Earlier this year, I worked alongside my colleagues  Representatives Alma Adams and Lauren Underwood in introducing the 2021 Black Maternal Health Week resolution and compelling the federal government to confront this crisis. That is why I am incredibly proud to support Public Advocate Williams' comprehensive package aimed at supporting maternal health and wellness and particularly targeted at reducing Black maternal mortality and pervasive maternal health disparities. By taking meaningful steps to address the disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes, we can save lives."

"Nearly 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications - a higher rate of maternal mortality than any other developed country," said Council Member Farah N. Louis. "The danger is even greater for Black women who are at least three to four times more likely than white women to die from a pregnancy-related cause. These deadly disparities in medical care are experienced by Black women across New York City, including East Flatbush, which I represent and which has one of the highest rates of severe maternal morbidity in the five boroughs (479.8 per 10,000 deliveries). This is an American tragedy. Solving the Black maternal health crisis will require immediate and effective action. As the Vice Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, I want to thank the Public Advocate for introducing this package of legislation. This is an important step. We need to take a multifaceted approach that looks at longstanding public policy failures and systemic racism in our healthcare system as well as issues such as education, employment, housing and transportation inequalities."

"Despite several hearings, new laws, and additional funding provided by the City Council, Black and Latinx women are still experiencing unacceptable rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, said Council Member Helen Rosenthal. "The City can and should take a number of critical steps immediately -- including supporting Public Advocate Williams' bills, which will establish a Maternal Health Bill of Rights and also help to build support for federal action on this urgent issue. The City should also move to ensure access to doulas for women at all income levels, which is long overdue. I thank the Public Advocate for his leadership and look forward to working with him to end racial disparities in maternal health."

"Black women have always endured systemic barriers and racism when it comes to healthcare, and the results are predictable: inadequate treatment, worse outcomes, and higher mortality rates," said Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers. "By asserting our right to medical care and making critical investments, we will eliminate long-standing inequities and defend Black maternal health, during pregnancy and beyond. I am looking forward to working with Public Advocate Williams to advance this package and fight for Black maternal health."

"On behalf of diaspora community services, we appreciate an honor the public advocate for continuing to shed light and prioritize the need for better health outcomes in maternal health specifically for black women," said Carine Jocelyn, Chief Executive Officer of Diaspora Community Services. "The time is now! We can no longer wait but need to move our actions forward! The families of women who have been impacted deserve our attention to this community crisis."

"Our organization and the Brooklyn Coalition for Health Equity for Women and Families supports  all three Maternal Health Bills," said Denise West, Deputy Executive Director of Brooklyn Perinatal Network."When passed and implemented they will  forward the progress needed to bring  health care equity to Black and Brown women.   BPN has spent the last  33 years collaborating with other health and social service providers and policymakers bringing to light the need and importance of addressing social determinates of health, identifying and bringing in creative and innovative models to address  maternal and infant mortality and morbidity. These bills must not  be considered a privilege but a Right! We strongly encourage that all policymakers stand behind our Public Advocate to get these bills passed immediately."

"Through our free legal helpline, we at A Better Balance see every day how the maternal health crisis disproportionately impacts Black and Latina women in New York City, and see firsthand how few women are able to access information about the rights and resources available to them," said A Better Balance Staff Attorney Meghan Racklin. "That's why we applaud the Public Advocate for introducing this package of maternal health bills and are proud to have worked with the Public Advocate on this critical issue. The workplace is a key determinant of maternal health and ensuring women receive information at Health and Hospitals locations will go a long way towards ensuring that women are able to meaningfully access their workplace rights. We look forward to continuing to work with the Public Advocate to pass these important bills and make New York City a safe and equitable place for all pregnant women."

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