By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE
Governor Andrew Cuomo shared on Sunday that New York State would be enlisting the help of birth doulas to reduce the rate of maternal mortality for people of color in the state. In the United States, people of color are four times more likely to die during the childbearing year than white parents. In New York City, they are 12 times more likely to die. New York is the fourth most populous state and New York City is the largest city in the USA. A total of 43% of the state’s population lives in the five boroughs of New York City. In 2016, there were 237,274 babies born in the entire state of New York. New York State is third in the USA behind California, and Texas in the number of births per year. Approximately 50% of New York State’s babies were born in New York City.
The New York Times covered Governor Cuomo’s announcement; “New York to Expand Use of Doulas to Reduce Childbirth Deaths” and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see The New York Times use the word “doula” in a national headline! New York State’s program will be a pilot program designed to provide doulas to families receiving Medicaid. The benefits of a doula were acknowledged, including the proven ability to improve outcomes for parents and newborns.
It is anticipated that State of New York’s Department of Health will release details about the pilot doula program within the next six weeks and it will start immediately after that. Currently only Minnesota and Oregon have doula programs for Medicaid recipients, and New York will become the third state to move in this direction.
The program will not be without challenges, as restrictions currently state that only licensed providers can receive reimbursement using federal Medicaid dollars. Doulas are currently not licensed, but no doubt New York will explore how to make the program workable and successful because the benefits have the potential to make a significant positive impact on parents and babies. There is much work to do to make this a reality, but New York is recognizing that something must change. Enlisting the help of doulas for families who are birthing is a relatively low tech solution that can make a big difference. It is my hope that DONA International doulas in New York State will step up to offer support and help as the program takes shape. If you would like to collaborate with DONA International’s Advocacy subcommittee on Health Disparities, please reach out and connect.
As the longest-standing and most respected doula organization in the world, DONA’s years of experience, vast membership base, members’ knowledge and skills are sure to be useful as more and more of these programs are established. DONA International’s leadership is committed to advocacy, led by Sarah Hodin, our Advocacy Chair.
Doulas are a low tech solution that can help to reduce the current maternal mortality rate, particularly for families of color, when governmental agencies, hospitals, and health insurance companies stop and recognize how doulas can have a positive impact on birth outcomes. I am so pleased that New York is getting this pilot program off the ground and look forward to future growth and development, where doulas can reach more people who can benefit from all they offer.
I celebrate Governor Cuomo’s announcement and look forward to a further opportunity for doulas to make a difference for families in NY State and all over the globe. We are one step closer to DONA’s vision of a doula for every person who wants one. Are you a NY State doula? What has been the reaction about this big announcement in your community?