WASHINGTON — A new hospital east of the Anacostia River isn't set to break ground for another few years. Millions of dollars set aside in the upcoming budget could help underserved pregnant women in the interim.
The hope is that the funds will help to reduce D.C.'s maternal mortality rate. Councilmember Christina Henderson introduced a bill to bring these changes as her first piece of legislation since joining the council.
"D.C. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country. A rate that's double the national average and in particular, not great for Black and brown women," said Henderson.
The Committee on Health included the Maternal Health Resources and Access Act in the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget. This means $480,000 will fund D.C. Healthcare Alliance coverage of rideshare or public transit for women traveling to and from medical appointments starting in October 2021. That means women who qualify, won't have to take several modes of transportation just to get to a prenatal appointment.
"There's data that shows 50% of Black women in D.C. don't seek prenatal care until their second or third trimesters. About a third of Hispanic women in the city, that's the case for them as well," said Henderson.
From the fiscal year 2022 to 2025, a total of $4.14 million will be included in the budget for Medicaid reimbursement for doula and midwife services.
"Research shows having an additional person in the room who can look out for you, who can advocate for you on your behalf, helps. It helps a lot," said Henderson.
Ebony Ford knows access to proper prenatal healthcare can be a difference between life and death. She nearly died giving birth to her daughter. Ford was diagnosed with preeclampsia and was in multi-organ failure. Her daughter was delivered through an emergency C-Section at just 26 weeks old.
It is something Ford said a doctor would have caught, had they believed her symptoms at a routine check-up.
"It's terrifying knowing I was walking around not really knowing what was wrong with me and essentially, I was dying," said Ford.
Henderson hopes even small steps like increased access to doula services and rideshare cost coverage, will help prevent life-threatening situations for other women in the District.
"We may be divided on other items as a council, but when it comes to maternal health, this is one thing I'm super proud that D.C. government seems to be incredibly unified on fixing this problem," said Henderson.
The funds are earmarked right now and D.C. Council will have its first full vote on the budget Tuesday.