Twin Cities Business 2023 Community Impact Awards
Targeted Health Initiative: Healthy Black Pregnancies
Combating racial disparities in prenatal and maternal care.
By Tina Nguyen | April 18, 2023
Black women make up just 13% of the birthing population in Minnesota, yet they account for 23% of pregnancy-associated deaths. St. Paul nonprofit Healthy Black Pregnancies (HBP) is on a mission to combat racial disparities in birth care.
“People are not feeling safe in our health care system at this point in time,” says Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra, chair of the HBP board. “We’re really trying to have the kind of support that people need to be able to speak up for themselves and to say what they need and what their babies need to make their experience one that is healthy.”
Healthy Black Pregnancies started out in 2015 as Integrated Care for High-Risk Pregnancies (ICHRP), a pilot initiative by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Based on a “community-created model,” ICHRP leveraged the expertise of physicians and nurses as well as midwives, doulas, social workers, and others.
“We have several people at the table, including the state and other organizations, who are doing similar work, so that we’re all working together for a better outcome in the future,” says Helen Jackson Lockett-El, secretary of the HBP board of directors.
The group has grown from a community advisory council to an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It adopted the Healthy Black Pregnancies name in 2021 to make its mission crystal-clear to stakeholders and the primary population the organization aims to support.
“This is the responsibility of the whole community,” says Dr. Nathan Chomilo, medical director of Medicaid and MinnesotaCare at DHS. “How do we position HBP in a way that can leverage the backbone of state funding with funding from other parts of the community who should be at the table helping improve outcomes for our mothers and birthing persons?”This year, about 200 individuals are being served by HBP and HBP’s partners, which focus on providing birth support and resources. Currently, HBP has four partners: the African American Babies Coalitions and Projects, Nubian Moms, ICHRP at the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, and Dynamic, Involved, Valued African-American (DIVA) Moms.
DIVA Moms, which serves Ramsey County residents, is a culturally reflective prenatal program. Founder Dr. Diane Banigo found when participants were able to talk about things that impacted them as Black women, they were more likely to report issues such as high blood pressure, domestic violence, and abuse.
“Not only were we trying to inform them about pre-term delivery and low birth-weight, but we also cared about their experiences of how they were treated as Black women,” Banigo says.
But the work is just getting started.
In 2022, HBP contracted with the state to expand beyond the Twin Cities. The group considers itself in startup mode and hopes to eventually serve all Black women and individuals in Minnesota in its birth equity work.
“We are committed. This is not just what we do, this is who we are. The people that are leading this initiative are Black women,” Banigo says. “I’m happy the state has finally shown us they’re willing to partner with us and not just come in and take over. I hope that HBP will set a standard of how things can work when you actually partner.”