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Ohio Celebrates Black Maternal Health Week

By: Kezia Ofosu Atta, Policy Manager, Groundwork Ohio

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Too many Black moms and babies are dying from preventable causes  

Babies in Ohio bear a disproportionate burden of our failing care systems. In Ohio, infant mortality rates continue to be worse than the U.S. average at 6.9 infant deaths (under age 1) per 1,000 births. Mothers in Ohio also lack adequate access to prenatal care and support. This creates various maternal and infant health disparities across the state. Groundwork Ohio’s Early Childhood Dashboard showed Ohio’s maternal mortality rate in 2019 was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births. In 2023, the March of Dimes’ Report Card for Ohio showed that 14.4% of birthing mothers in the state received care beginning in the fifth month or later or less than 50% of the appropriate number of visits for the infant’s gestational age. Additionally, nearly 1 in 4 pregnant moms don’t have access to prenatal care in their first trimester. These rates are worse for Black moms and children in Ohio.  


Black moms in Ohio deserve attention because of the health disparities they experience alongside their babies and families. Some examples: 

  • Racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality/morbidity persist regardless of maternal income or education level.

  • Non-Hispanic Black women were more than 2.5 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than non-Hispanic white women.

  • From 2017-2018, excluding deaths due to overdose, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for non-Hispanic Black individuals per 100,000 live births was 20.9 compared to 13.6 for non-Hispanic white women.  

  • Of all pregnancy-related deaths that occurred in Ohio from 2017-2018, 73% of deaths of non-Hispanic Black women were preventable.  

  • Ohio has a higher neonatal abstinence rate (11) than the U.S. average of 11 per 1,000 newborns.

  • The infant mortality rate is 2.5 times greater for Black Ohioans than for white Ohioans.


Key contributing factors that could have prevented maternal deaths include the provider, support person, or mother’s lack of knowledge or understanding of threats to the health of Black pregnant women. These threats include shortness of breath, which requires immediate care, or the impact of chronic stress due to racism.

Raising awareness through Black Maternal Health Week  

In May 2023, Representatives Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) and Andrea White (R-Kettering) introduced House Bill 190, which designates the week of April 11 to 17 as Black Maternal Health Week. The bill was created to raise awareness of Black maternal and infant care in Ohio. Since its passage in the Ohio House of Representatives in December 2023, more collaborations have been formed with agents of change to promote Black maternal and infant health. Sadly, HB 190 remains in the Ohio Senate Health Committee. 

Local communities up their efforts: Mama Certified

Earlier this year in Southwest Ohio, Queens Village, Cradle Cincinnati, the Health Collaborative, Mercy Health, the Christ Hospital Health Network, TriHealth, and UC Health came together with bi3, Anthem, and CareSource to establish the Mama Certified website, a collective impact approach to maternal and infant health equity. This website provides visibility into the maternal and infant-related efforts of local hospital networks with a particular focus on better meeting the needs of Black and brown mothers.  


How it works 

Mama Certified places the choice of care in mothers' hands. On the website, moms can see rates of maternal, infant, staff, and community care of specific hospitals and whether the hospital is an ally, advocate, or leader in such care. Expectant mothers can also read equity-centered maternal care reports on each hospital which list their performance with a breakdown of their infant and maternal care rates. Each hospital certified by the website receives a grade level for each focus area through points earned from questions asked about their maternal and infant health initiatives. 

This unprecedented initiative brings inpatient voice into the care delivery process. It also ensures hospital staffs are better trained to support Black and brown mothers and committed to improving workforce diversity to better represent the patients they care for. 

Kiana Trabue, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Chief Program Officer for bi3 said: “Mama Certified is bringing competing health systems together, helping to build trust and transparency in the community by inspiring birthing health systems to work together. Mama Certified has the potential to put Greater Cincinnati at the forefront of positive maternal and infant health outcomes.” 

Cradle Cincinnati added: “Our local birthing hospitals’ commitment to transparency and their accountability to Black women is groundbreaking. We are deeply grateful for their willingness to work towards maternal health equity. In the end, we want women of all races and ethnicities to have joyful birthing experiences.” Furthermore, “looking back on those initial conversations with moms, it is incredible to see how that seed of an idea has grown into what Mama Certified is today.”  

The collective hopes that Mama Certified grows into a well-used resource across the state and that more hospitals join forces to meet their goals for Black mothers and infants in Ohio. 


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