Research to elevate ongoing postpartum transitional care for minority women receives funding

pregnant woman

Despite 21st century medical advancements, maternal mortality and morbidity have steadily increased in the United States. In fact, the country has higher rates of maternal mortality than any other well-resourced nation, as well as startling maternal health disparities.Black and Indigenous women in the U.S. have a three to four times higher risk of pregnancy-related death than white women. Over 50% of these deaths occur after delivery, and 90% of them are preventable.

However, actually preventing these tragedies requires complete redesign of the postpartum care and support available to women after delivering a baby.

The Ohio State University recently received grant funding from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to establish a maternal health equity research center in collaboration with Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Albizu University in Puerto Rico. The research center titled “The Center for Care Continuity After Pregnancy Tailoring Transition Interventions for Underserved and Minority Mothers (CONTINUUM): A PaTH to Maternal Health Equity” brings together maternal health-focused collaborators from the three universities to develop innovative solutions that equitably address maternal morbidity and mortality, especially in maternity care deserts and low healthcare access areas.

The research center is led by Seuli Brill, MD, associate professor of Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Brill is a primary care physician, dual board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics, and a nationally recognized maternal health researcher and educator. CONTINUUM co-leads include Rochanda Mitchell, DO, RD, maternal-fetal medicine physician, dietician, and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Howard University; and two faculty members of clinical psychology programs from Albizu University: Mariela Rodriguez Miranda, PhD, clinical psychologist and associate professor with a specialization in women’s health psychology, and Tamare P. Piersaint, PsyD, associate professor with expertise in culturally contextualized interventions for perinatal mental health conditions.

According to Dr. Brill, postpartum care redesign requires new collaborations between the people who are most impacted by maternal health disparities and the communities and institutions who serve them.

“Postpartum care redesign should be informed by patient lived experience,” Dr. Brill says. “CONTINUUM’s key strengths stem from our collaborations with multi-disciplinary partners at Howard University and Albizu University who live and work in the communities most affected by the U.S. maternal health crisis.”

The CONTINUUM team will address postpartum maternal health disparities across Washington, South Florida, Puerto Rico and Ohio through multipronged efforts, including maternal health equity research capacity building across the institutions, partnerships with regional clinical research networks and community-based participatory research.

Dr. Piersaint feels that the objectives of CONTINUUM are of monumental importance to maternal health.

“I am honored to serve on CONTINUUM to develop holistic approaches to caring for pregnant and postpartum women facing health inequities and to ensure that maternal health inequities become a thing of the past,” Dr. Piersaint says.

Dr. Rodriguez Miranda is particularly excited about developing innovative strategies for integrating mental health care into postpartum services.

“CONTINNUM’s work will have tangible future clinical impact. Solutions that prioritize mental health care after pregnancy will help mothers feel better, feel better about themselves and have better experiences caring for their babies,” Dr. Rodriguez Miranda says.

CONTINUUM places special emphasis on ensuring equitable access to integrated health care and community services during prenatal-to-postpartum transitions and across the postpartum year.

CONTINUUM will have strong engagement from patient, clinical and community partners in conducting research and capacity building activities.

Dr. Mitchell strongly believes that CONTINUUM’s community-based participatory research approaches strongly align with the central mission of Howard University.

“Howard University is steeped in a tradition of serving Black and underserved communities in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas,” Dr. Mitchell says. “Shifting resources and attention back to the patients and communities who need them is the essence of the CONTINUUM project.”