NJ first lady launches new campaign to help reduce maternal deaths

First lady Tammy Murphy announced her new statewide awareness campaign, Nurture New Jersey, to reduce maternal deaths.

“I’m looking forward, and everyone here, to ensuring that more and more woman here in New Jersey not only live through pregnancy, but live through the first year of that child’s life ,” Murphy said.

New Jersey ranks 45th in the country in maternal deaths. According to United Health Foundation, about 38 women die for every 100,000 live births. The national average is about 21.

“Of maternal deaths in New Jersey, nearly half, 46.5 percent, are African-American mothers. Almost 14 percent are Latina mothers. When combining these numbers, ladies and gentlemen, that’s over 60 percent of maternal deaths in New Jersey that are women of color. This is unacceptable,” said Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, chair of the women and children committee.

“There’s a concept called implicit bias. Where even clinicians of color tend not to, necessarily, treat people of color the same way. This has been proven in study after study,” said Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal. “And so, what this requires is an unprecedented look at how we can tackle implicit bias at the point of care.”

Elnahal announced hospitals across the state have now unanimously committed to reducing maternal mortality. He says they’ll work with a doctor who led efforts in California to reduce rates more than 50 percent in five years.

“You take everything from hemorrhage, to preeclampsia, to embolism, clots and then you have a list. We have protocols to not only address those complications faster if they could arise, but also to prevent them from happening in the first place.” Elnahal said.

On Tuesday, a joint committee released a 14-bill package aimed at combating maternal mortality. It ranged from providing Medicaid funding for doulas to tightening protocols.

Assemblywoman Shanique Speight voted in favor at the hearing after sharing her personal story.

“My husband — his mom had him at the age of 18 in 1973. She died several days later,” Speight said. “So he never was able to meet his mom.”

Speight says not much has changed in all those years, but she’s hopeful this spotlight on the issue will finally move things forward a sentiment echoed by Mosquera.

“We must do better,” Mosquera said.

“It’s not just about hospitals, right. We need to make sure that there’s that set of community services, so that further upstream people live in affordable housing have access to food — are able to support the healthy lifestyles,” said Carole Johnson, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

“Over the last year, having traveled around the state, I think there are some great people, great organizations who are working on this topic, but we’ve all worked in silos, and I think the big challenge in bringing everybody together,” Murphy said.

The first lady says her next steps will be to schedule more internal meetings, social media campaigns, op-eds and hosting more community events to give families direct resources.