Awards to Support Local Doulas, Expanded Access to Services and Provide Business Development Opportunities
March 10, 2020
PROVIDENCE, R.I.— Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune, Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Sacred Womanhood Owner and Doula Emerald Ortiz, Rhode Island Kid’s Count Policy Analyst Kaitlyn Orona and community partners to award local doula professionals, organizations and collaboratives with funding aimed at improving access to maternal health care in Providence. Additionally, funding will support the presence of doulas as subject matter experts in the development of a statewide doula certification process through the Rhode Island Licensing Board.
“We want all of our families to have access to the best care possible when they bring a child into this world,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza. “We know that the United States has an exceptionally high rate of maternal deaths and that this problem is especially prevalent in communities of color. Through this work and our continued advocacy at the state level, our community is coming together so that our residents have access to the quality healthcare they need and deserve.”
Doulas are non-medical professionals who provide physical, emotional and informational support to individuals and families during pregnancy, at birth and in the post-pregnancy period. Doula services are known to improve health outcomes for pregnant people and infants while also lowering maternity care costs, especially for people of color. Doula-assisted mothers are less likely to deliver babies with low birth weights or with birth complications, a 2013 study found.
“Black women in the United States experience some of the worst maternal health outcomes in the nation, including disproportionately high maternal mortality rates due to complications during childbirth and barriers that prevent access to quality care,” said Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune. “Doulas play a vital role in increasing survival rates amongst mothers and babies. The Doula Bill and the Mayor’s investment are significant strides in ensuring that every mother has access to quality care during childbirth. A mother’s race, socioeconomic background, immigration status, or sexual orientation should not be a determinant of their birth outcome.”
Access to doula care is an ongoing health equity issue faced by communities across the United States. There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “the Black and American Indian/Alaska Native birthing individuals are three times more likely to die in childbirth” compared to other constituencies. A growing body of research indicates that the quality of healthcare, from preconception through postpartum, can play a significant role in improving these racial and ethnic disparities in maternal mortality and improve health overall outcomes for entire families.
“Access to Doulas is a major component of Reproductive Health,” said Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell. “Having a doula who can respond culturally, racially and linguistically is a win-win for all, including mothers who will continue to receive doula services post-delivery. The bill I introduced in the General Assembly (HB 7587) addresses the issue of economics. I firmly believe that doulas must be adequately compensated for the compassion and expertise that they bring to their work. It also covers doula services through Medicaid and private insurance.”
Through the Healthy Communities Office, a request for proposals was launched this past January inviting individuals, organizations and collaboratives that provide doula services or training to apply for awards of up to $4,000. The request specifically called for applications that would use the funding to: increase the number of local doulas of color; expand access to doula services for people of color in Providence; and provide business development to other doulas. Five awards were given to four applicants that demonstrated a commitment to improving maternal health outcomes including Quatia Osorio (Our Journ3i), Ada Johnson (Hawthorn Grief Care), Latisha Michael (Ready Set Latch Go) and Emerald Ortiz (Sacred Wombanhood Birth Support Services).
“I believe it is imperative to support pregnant people and new parents to strengthen the bonds made both in utero and in the earliest months and years of life,” said Sacred Womanhood owner and doula Emerald Ortiz who was awarded funds. “A healthy and supported parent can build a healthy and loving family. Doulas are here to help educate and advocate for families through pregnancy, breastfeeding and into the early months of parenthood.”
Additionally, funding has been used to pay stipends for 12 doulas to help guide the development of a statewide doula certification process through the Rhode Island Licensing Board. Currently, there is no state certification process for doulas, which is a barrier to doula services being reimbursed through private or state-funded medical insurance programs. By including doulas as subject matter experts in this process, they are directly informing this process to equitably increase access to services statewide.
“Every Rhode Island child, regardless of their zip code or their parent’s race, ethnicity, or income deserves to get off to the right start in life,” said Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Policy Analyst Katie Orona. “Expecting mothers having healthy pregnancies and births is an essential component of that process. Rhode Island KIDS COUNT thanks the City of Providence for working to improve maternal health outcomes by supporting doulas of color and increasing access to doula care in the communities most impacted.”
The announcement comes the same day as advocates convene at the State House to support legislation and budget articles related to doula services. The City supports state legislation and Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget, that will establish medical assistance coverage and reimbursement rates for perinatal doula services. This will provide expanded and more equitable access to doula services, with more individuals and families who face barriers in the traditional medical system gaining access to the critical health services they need.