Memorial Hermann is committed to improving the health of the communities we serve, including women and children of all ages. Improving health begins with understanding and addressing the social determinants of health, the non-medical factors, including the economic and social conditions, that can influence health outcomes. One of our key areas of focus is reducing and ultimately eliminating maternal mortality and morbidity.
Addressing Maternal Mortality and Morbidity
Black women are more than three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as white women, and Native American women are more than twice as likely, regardless of their income or education. And for every pregnancy-related death, there are an estimated 70 cases of severe maternal morbidity (SMM), serious underlying health conditions that can lead to pregnancy complications for laboring moms, or even death.
SMM also poses a health risk to the infant. Infants born to mothers with SMM are 39 percent more likely to die than those born to mothers without these health complications.
Unfortunately, SMM is on the rise, including in Harris County, which has one of the highest rates of maternal morbidity among metropolitan areas in the country. According to the CDC, rises in SMM are likely driven by a combination of factors, including increases in maternal age, pre-pregnancy obesity, pre-existing chronic medical conditions and cesarean delivery.
Memorial Hermann Health System cares for more than 25,000 laboring mothers from every ethnic, economic and racial background every year and is committed to reducing and ultimately eliminating these racial and ethnic disparities. We are working with and in the communities we serve to understand and address the underlying causes of pregnancy-related complications, including the social determinants of health, which begin long before a woman becomes pregnant.
Maternal Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Council
In April 2021, the Memorial Hermann Maternal Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Council was formed to fully understand the SMM problem and to identify and begin to address the underlying causes. Addressing the problem at the time of labor and delivery is not the answer, and we are working with and in the communities we serve to understand and address the underlying causes of pregnancy-related complications. The Council is one of several Memorial Hermann EDI councils which identify and undertake key initiatives designed to make a real difference in the lives of underserved communities across Greater Houston.
Memorial Hermann Community Resource Centers
Memorial Hermann operates three Community Resource Centers in the Houston area, each staffed by Memorial Hermann community health workers who are equipped to help women navigate concerns impacting their health, including care access, food insecurity, safe housing and transportation. The Centers help connect uninsured and underinsured individuals with vitally important access to primary and preventive care by working closely with federally qualified health centers, private not-for-profit clinics and Harris Health System.
Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation (CBC)
The Memorial Hermann Community Resource Centers are just one of many programs of the Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation (CBC). To advance Memorial Hermann’s vision of creating healthier communities, the CBC implements initiatives in cooperation with other healthcare providers, government agencies, business leaders and community stakeholders. These programs are designed to improve the overall quality of life in our communities, including among women and children.
The CBC’s work is built on the foundation of four intersecting pillars: Access to Health Care, Emotional Wellbeing, Food as Health and Exercise is Medicine. These pillars are designed to provide care for uninsured and underinsured; to reach residents of the Greater Houston area needing low-cost care; to support the existing infrastructure of non-profit clinics and federally qualified health centers; to address mental and behavioral care services through innovative access points; to work against food insecurity and physical inactivity; and to educate individuals and their families on how to access the services needed by and available to them.
Maternal Early Warning System (MEWS)
In 2020, Memorial Hermann began utilizing the Maternal Early Warning System (MEWS), an initiative of the Texas Collaborative for Healthy Mothers and Babies (TCHMB). MEWS is a tool medical practitioners use to facilitate timely recognition, diagnosis and treatment of critical illness, including hypertension hemorrhage and sepsis, in pregnant and postpartum women. Memorial Hermann is using this tool to prevent complications and to expedite treatment when they do occur.
View Urgent Maternal Warning Signs
Memorial Hermann Delivery Nurse Navigators and Doulas
Giving birth can be stressful, especially if there are underlying health conditions that can increase a woman’s risk of complications. To help ensure safe deliveries and to minimize stress, Memorial Hermann is expanding its Delivery Nurse Navigator program and hopes to incorporate community-based doulas into its labor and delivery program. As defined by DONA International, a doula is “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”
Memorial Hermann Fatherhood Initiative
According to the U. S. Census, in 2020, 21 percent of children in the U.S. lived with their mothers only. Research shows that a father's absence affects children in a number of unfortunate ways, while a father's presence makes a positive difference in the lives of both children and mothers.
The aim of Memorial Hermann’s Fatherhood Initiative is to reduce the risk of adverse maternal and child health outcomes through family-focused parent education. The 12-week course includes separate education classes for mothers and fathers. The fathers’ classes are designed to help each father be the best parent he can be. The mothers’ education classes are designed to increase the mother’s knowledge, positive attitudes (e.g., toward the father’s involvement) and communication skills to help her improve her relationship with the father of her child.
Maternal Screenings at Pediatrician Visits
After giving birth, many women focus on the health of their baby but at the expense of their own health. They may make every pediatrician visit but might neglect their own check-ups. For this reason, Memorial Hermann is encouraging our affiliated pediatricians to screen new moms for hypertension (high blood pressure) and postpartum depression when they bring their infants in for checkups.
“Implicit Bias” Education for Physicians and Staff
“Implicit bias” is a term used to describe a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized. In 2020, over 200 Memorial Hermann affiliated pediatricians and other physician groups completed a course designed to help them define implicit bias, understand the relationship between health inequity and implicit bias, and develop strategies to reduce implicit bias. In addition, Memorial Hermann is utilizing the March of Dimes “Breaking Through Bias in Maternity Care” implicit bias training course to help obstetricians recognize and remedy implicit bias in maternity care settings.
Healthy Women Houston
Memorial Hermann participated in Healthy Women Houston, a citywide collaborative project to help women in underserved communities get the prenatal care they need. Many of these women need help with transportation to doctor visits. Some need mental health or substance abuse support. Others lack food or health insurance. These are all social determinants of women’s and babies’ health. The goal of the program is to connect women in need with these resources in a hospitable way.
Improving Maternal Health Houston
In Harris County, maternal morbidity is growing at a faster rate than the national average. Pediatrician Vicki Regan, MD, vice president of Memorial Hermann Women’s and Children’s Service Line, Carol Paret, senior vice president and chief community health officer for Memorial Hermann Health System and CEO of Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation, and maternal fetal medicine specialist Sean Blackwell, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, serve on the steering committee of Improving Maternal Health Houston, an initiative that endeavors to make Harris County a place where every woman’s pregnancy, delivery and postpartum experience is successful and safe.
Memorial Hermann is an active participant in the TexasAIM initiative, a collaboration between Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) and the Texas Hospital Association (THA). AIM is a program used by hospitals and communities across the country to improve maternal safety through implementing best practices, with the goal of ending preventable maternal death and SMM.
To learn more about all of Memorial Hermann’s equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, please click here.