Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, was a key sponsor of a symposium on maternal health and perinatal safety which included New Jersey Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal, M.D., MBA, network physicians and national leading experts to develop strategies to improve outcomes for mothers and newborns and to eliminate racial disparities in outcomes.
“Hackensack Meridian Health is proud to sponsor this symposium and bring together all stakeholders so that New Jersey can produce true solutions to improve these unacceptable outcomes for far too many women and their babies,’’ said Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health.
The U.S. is only 1 of 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is now worse than it was 25 years ago. Each year, up to 900 maternal deaths occur in the U.S.
While the overall infant mortality rate in New Jersey is lower than the national average, the disparity between white infant deaths – 3.0 per 1,000 – and black infant deaths – 9.7 per 1,000 – is alarming, a crisis expert said needs to be addressed.
“We look forward to continued collaboration with the state Department of Health and leading national experts gathered here today to improve maternal health and perinatal safety,’’ said Ihor S. Sawczuk, M.D., regional president, Northern Market, Hackensack Meridian Health.
“Right now despite the best intentions and best efforts and true dedication of excellent clinicians and CEOs, New Jersey is still one of the worst places to have a baby in the developed world,’’ said Dr. Elnahal.
“We have to do better,’’ he said. “We must do better. And that is why we are here today.’’
Andrew Rubenstein, M.D., section chief of Obstetrics at Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center, noted that federal and state data clearly identify a crisis that requires collaboration from all stakeholders to improve the lives of mothers and infants.
“This is no longer about zip codes,’’ said Dr. Rubenstein. “This is no longer about networks. This is about patients and patient care.’’
Dr. Rubenstein serves on a number of patient safety and quality council committees in the department and the medical center. He is chairman of the Total Quality Improvement Committee for the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey, which oversees the region-wide programs for Total Quality Improvement (TQI) metrics for the areas 24 hospitals.
In January, Dr. Rubenstein was appointed chair of the New Jersey Hospital Association’s New Jersey Perinatal Quality Collaborative (NJPQC). Through this position, Dr. Rubenstein has been involved in the Alliance for Innovations on Maternal Health (AIM) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Network of Perinatal Quality Collaborative (NNPQC).
Mr. Garrett also noted that the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, which welcomed its inaugural class this year, is deeply committed to eliminating racial and socio-economic disparity in health outcomes. A key feature of the innovative curriculum is the focus on community-based care and the social determinants of health.
Experts are researching several possible causes for the disparity in outcomes for women and infants including different rates of disease among black women compared to the general population as well as what Dr. Elnahal described as “institutional racism.’’
High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are two of the leading causes of maternal death, according to the CDC and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia, have been on the rise of the past two decades.
A Department of Health and Human Services report last year found that pre-eclampsia and eclampsia – seizures that develop after pre-eclampsia are 60 percent more common in African-American women and also more severe.
Experts noted that California through the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC) has been working to address high rates of maternal deaths and in the last five to seven years reduced deaths by 50 percent by focusing on best practices and “listening to mothers, especially black mothers,’’ Dr. Elnahal said.
The state awarded six maternal and child health agencies across the state $4.3 million in grant funding as part of the Department’s “Healthy Women, Healthy Families’’ Initiative.
Another event sponsor, The Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey, received $1.2 million.
PHOTO CAPTION: FROM Left: Dr. Andrew Rubenstein, Commissioner Shereef Elnahal, Dr. Ihor Sawczuk.