Today, black women are three times as likely to experience a pregnancy related death when compared to white women, while 60% of black maternal deaths are avoidable. Unfortunately, there’s growing evidence that when black women report concerns, when black women report pain, when black women report symptoms, they’re often not heard like their counterparts. This social bias has been with us for some time— but its larger impact on the maternal healthcare and benefits system as we know it today are tremendous.
From fertility to postpartum, black expectant mothers need better tools to have happier and healthier pregnancies. And access and resources that leaves them just as protected physically and financially in the workplace as their colleagues.
Maya Hardigan has spent the better part of the past 20 years working in healthcare consulting, digital health, and the non-profit maternal health space to create equitable solutions for patients everywhere. More importantly, she’s a black mother of three girls who is on a mission to create a world where high quality, proactive care is the standard for everyone. It was out of this commitment that she founded Mae Health in 2020, named after health equity champion May Edward Chin, a culturally-algined maternal healthcare platform built to create better black pregnancy outcomes for women everywhere today.
To mark the end of this Women’s History Month, we chatted with Maya to get her take on what the key barriers for black expectant mothers are in 2023, and what Mae is doing to make a difference.
Why Mae Takes a Hybrid Approach to Championing Black Expectant Mothers
“I come from a digital health background, and know that digital health solutions have a powerful ability to bridge access between people and important resources….but when I think about the complexities of black maternal health disparities, I don't think a digital health solution in and of itself is actually enough, right?,” Maya said up front, “What we know is that we sometimes also need is a champion and an advocate standing in the room standing next to us to make sure that we understand what's happening in our care, and that we're consenting to what's happening in our care to make sure that our preferences around our experiences are acknowledged and respected.”
Mae is a hybrid solution, one that is digital first, but also is one that has been built to offer community based services and clinical interventions that they know meet the specific needs and challenges of this population. Mae combines best in class digital health support— risk ID continuous tracking, digital education and tools— with community based doula support, where its been proven that there's a meaningful correlation between doula participation and being able to influence some of the downstream pregnancy impacts such as high rates of non medically indicated C sections, rates of preterm labor, low birth weights, rates of successful breastfeeding, and recovery times from postpartum complications.
Mae primarily contracts primarily with Medicaid insurance plans, but has started stepping into other commercial opportunities as well, to pursue working directly with employers and managed care partners to change what Maya calls “not the singular, but certainly the majority experience” of black expectant mothers.
How to Build Cultural Alignment Between Patient and Provider
Maya starts by explaining how implicit bias is natural in a world where there is a significant “disparity in demographics between the patient and provider communities.”
Mae seeks to activate birth workers of color for payer reimbursement so that they are more frequent members of extended care teams to build trust with users and drive cultural alignment. She stresses that creating a more culturally aligned care team for expectant mothers is not limited to the maternity scope or offering, but it’s about considering “the holistic care team of your primary care physician, your therapist, your doula, your OB— all of these individuals.” She says, “the key lies in being able to connect through a marketplace that is really matching based on cultural alignment and health needs.” For providers, diverse care teams allow them to serve more diverse populations.
The Cost to Employers when Black Pregnancies Aren’t Adequately Supported
Maya emphasizes that there is a strong business case for taking better care of black women that are expecting in the workplace. In a world where employers today face several challenges from productivity to rising costs in health care, maternal support for everyone will become increasingly important.
Providing the right resources so that black female employees can have healthier births not only offers them emotional support at a critical life stage, but also drives retention, minimizes absenteeism and turnover, and reduces potential out of pocket costs that could arise from avoidable pregnancy-related complications. For example, Maya calls out that black women disproportionately suffer perinatal mood disorders and postpartum depression due to a general lack of support in this particular life stage, and those with better resources are more likely to stay in the workforce.
In a time when 25% of the women consider leaving their jobs altogether due to their health, Maya highlights that there’s a real need for employers to think more carefully about DEI programs, affinity groups, and educational resource centers that are able to adequately and accurately address the needs of underserved minorities in the workforce, particularly women of color at such a critical period in their lives.
If you’d like to connect with Maya you can message her on Linkedin.
Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Maya Hardigan and Mae Health are not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Brella Insurance Inc. To learn more about Brella, check out our plan and get in touch.