UnitedHealthcare, Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and SistasCaring4Sistas (SC4S) announced the expansion of a community-based doula program into western North Carolina. The Doulas for Social Justice program, which was started by SistasCaring4Sistas to support primarily Black and low-income women through pregnancy, birth and postpartum, will aim to improve maternal health outcomes among Black women and reduce racial and social disparities among mothers in the region by providing access to quality health care.
With $25,000 in support from UnitedHealthcare, the collaboration with MAHEC and SC4S will expand the Doulas for Social Justice program to provide prenatal services and resources to rural western North Carolina residents. The announcement coincides with national Black Maternal Health Week beginning April 11, a week of awareness, activism and community building to lift the voices and improve the birthing experience for Black people.
According to the America's Health Rankings 2021 Health of Women and Children Report, compiled by the United Health Foundation, North Carolina ranks 35th for low birthweight racial disparity and Black women have at least twice the rate of severe maternal morbidity compared to white women.
“Access to quality maternal health care will help close the gap on health inequity in our state," said Anita Bachmann, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina. "We are honored to partner with Mountain Area Health Education Center and SistasCaring4Sistas of North Carolina to address disparities and outcomes with the expanded doula program."
A doula typically provides physical and emotional support during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period, including guidance to help women and families make informed decisions on maternal self-care, lactation and healthy parenting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. 
“Partnering with UnitedHealthcare to support families most likely to face pregnancy-related complications, even death, is such an amazing opportunity," said Cindy McMillan, director, SistasCaring4Sistas. "United together, we value equitable, safe and positive birth outcomes and are utilizing needed community-based support to address community health care needs within maternal health systems in North Carolina."
According to March of Dimes, North Carolina ranks higher in the preterm birth rate compared to the national average, and the preterm birth rate among Black women is 46% higher than for all other women.  North Carolina also faces access to care challenges, especially in rural western North Carolina, ranking 39th nationally.  MAHEC provides and supports educational activities and services with a focus on primary care in rural communities.
“Poor maternal health outcomes remain high among women in North Carolina, and together we are addressing maternal and prenatal health inequity in communities in need," said Amanda Murphy, certified nurse midwife and medical director, Mothering Asheville. "We applaud UnitedHealthcare for recognizing the importance of maternal and child health in improving care for all pregnancies across the state."
The program is one of several that UnitedHealthcare, along with its parent company UnitedHealth Group, is launching to address maternal health outcomes throughout the United States. Recent initiatives include nearly $14 million in philanthropic grants to support maternal health, and $2.85 million in support to March of Dimes for a public-private partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services that aims to reduce the Black-white disparity gap and improve maternal health outcomes. In 2021, UnitedHealthcare provided Unified Women's Health Care of North Carolina support to launch a prenatal care model initiative, CenteringPregnancy, in four North Carolina locations to improve outcomes and reduce racial and social disparities among mothers in North Carolina by providing access to quality maternal care.
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making the health system work better for everyone by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. In the United States, UnitedHealthcare offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 1.5 million physicians and care professionals, and 7,000 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. The company also provides health benefits and delivers care to people through owned and operated health care facilities in South America. UnitedHealthcare is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified health care company. For more information, visit UnitedHealthcare at www.uhc.com or follow @UHC on Twitter.
Mountain Area Health and Education Center provides and supports educational activities and services with a focus on primary care in rural communities with less access to resources to recruit, train and retain the workforce needed to create a healthy Western North Carolina. MAHEC has a 40 plus year history of innovation in health education and clinical care in Buncombe County and its surrounding communities. Serving as the obstetrical safety net provider in Western North Carolina (WNC) MAHEC cares for women and children from all 16 counties in the WNC region. Over the past six years, Mothering Asheville (with MAHEC as the lead clinical organization) has achieved successes in community capacity building, clinical shift, and policy/environmental change.
SistasCaring4Sistas was created in 2016 after working to build trust and relationships among community residents of a public housing neighborhood, Pisgah View Apartments, and representatives from several local nonprofits. After learning that Black babies die at three times the rate of white babies in Buncombe County, the Black women in our community identified that birth doulas were a great way to improve health outcomes. SistasCaring4Sistas represents a group of Black community-based doulas supporting primarily Black and low-income women through pregnancy, birth and postpartum. This community-based doula program was founded by women of color for women of color who could benefit from evidence-based doula birth support and other wraparound resources.
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