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Agencies collaborate to train doulas to improve maternal, infant mortality rates

Finger Lakes Performing Provider System (FLPPS), Healthy Baby Network, HealthConnect One and Finger Lakes Community Health will collaborate on a two-year initiative to innovate Healthy Baby Network’s Black Doula Collaborative, which will improve the health and well-being of women, infants and birthing families.

The program will identify and train individuals who are trusted members of the community to provide doula services and help improve prenatal care, raise breastfeeding rates, decrease unnecessary medical interventions, increase positive birth experiences and improve parenting skills, the agencies said this week.

A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical and educational support to a mother who is pregnant, is experiencing labor or who has recently given birth. Their purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience.

The Rochester and Finger Lakes region maternal mortality is 51 percent higher for Black moms than for white moms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and infant mortality is 300 percent higher for Black babies than for white babies.

Using HealthConnect One’s “train the trainer” model, the program based at Healthy Baby Network and Finger Lakes Community Health will hire, onboard and train doulas, which includes 16 community-based training sessions. FLPPS will fund six full-time equivalent doulas, which will serve 250 Black and Brown women. The program will develop referral pathways with health care systems and federally qualified health centers to facilitate care.

“HealthConnect One’s community-based doula reputation program has achieved astounding results for nearly three decades, and we are proud to co-develop the Black Doula Collaborative with our partners in Rochester. Through our decades of experience, we know how critical culturally reflective, community-rooted doula support is for improving outcomes for Black babies and birthing people,” said Twylla Dillion, executive director of HealthConnect One. “With the workforce development elements of this program, we will build new career pathways for women from under-resourced communities where the need for doula support is greatest. Legislatively, there is a lot of motion nationally and within New York state to develop sustainable funding for community-based doulas through Medicaid doula reimbursement. This project will provide additional evidence in support of community-rooted doula support.”

Medicaid reimbursement legislation in New York would establish doulas as medical providers and require health insurers to provide coverage for doula services, officials said.

“I’m thrilled that FLPPS is partnering with these reputable organizations across the region that have deep expertise in addressing disparities. This innovative doula program will provide vital support to ensure patient-centered care and better outcomes for mothers and babies in the Finger Lakes region,” said FLPPS Executive Director Carol Tegas in a statement.

FLPPS is a network of clinical and community-based organizations across a 13-county region that work together to improve the Medicaid health care delivery system and support high-risk individuals and populations.

“Healthy Baby Network’s board and staff are proud to partner with HealthConnect One, Finger Lakes Community Health and the Finger Lakes Performing Provider System to innovate our Black Doula Collaborative as a hub for training Black women to be doulas and continuing to expand their work with health providers to bring lifesaving care and support for vulnerable Black pregnant and parenting women and their families,” said Healthy Baby Network Executive Director Sherita Bullock. “This is how we reduce and work to eliminate preventable Black Maternal Mortality and Morbidity in Rochester, New York state and beyond.”

Finger Lakes Community Health CEO Mary Zelazny added: “We are excited to be a part of this work with FLPPS and our regional partners. Doulas provide emotional and physical support to our pregnant moms who can be vulnerable to problems in pregnancy and birth. This program will positively benefit so many women in our region and help to ensure healthy maternal outcomes.”

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