Blue Shield of California invests in initiative to improve maternal and child health


Soraya Marashi


Earlier this month, Blue Shield of California announced their Maternal Child Health Equity initiative, which is focused on addressing disproportionately low mortality rates among mothers and children in underserved communities.


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The initiative aims to provide quality family-centered services to new and expecting mothers in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Sacramento counties through physician referrals.

DD Johnice, vice president of the health transformation lab at Blue Shield of California, told State of Reform about the non-profit health plan’s investments in addressing health disparities and providing culturally relevant support to mothers during their perinatal experience.

“Becoming a mother should be a joyful experience, and we want to provide the support and quality care women need during one of the most important times of their lives,” said Johnice.

According to Blue Shield of California, specific efforts within the initiative include: 

  • “Working with community-based organizations, including Black Wellness and Prosperity Center, Diversity Uplift, and Her Health First to provide training curriculum for doulas and connecting mothers to family-centered services, emergency funds, and maternal supplies.
  • Doulas who are culturally congruent and trauma-informed to help ensure mothers are being heard, supported, and informed during their perinatal experience to help close racially biased maternal care gaps.
  • Collaborating with Mahmee to bring access to health records of the mother and baby, educational materials ranging from nutrition to return to work, and unbiased guidance at every stage of the process.”

Johnice said collaborating with community-based organizations is a critical aspect of the initiative. 

“At Blue Shield of California, we acknowledge that the current health care system can be very broken. We also know that we cannot change it alone and there are some trusted names already in the space. As such, we have fostered relationships with experts with deep roots among local community-based organizations,” she said. “Black Wellness and Prosperity Center, Diversity Uplift, and Her Health First are all trusted by their communities and have unique connections to essential resources.”

Johnice emphasized the outstanding disparities in adverse birth outcomes and pregnancy-related complications for Black women compared to other racial/ethnic groups in California. In their announcement, Blue Shield of California highlighted that Black babies in Los Angeles County were twice as likely to die than Asian and Latinx babies, and three times more likely to die than white babies. 

“The disparities in morbidity and mortality rates are now—and has been for generations—a siren call signaling a health and health care crisis. This crisis was created by—and continues to be compounded by systemic and institutionalized racism, bias, and a lack of investment in even proven solutions,” said Johnice. “The medical and social needs of Black mothers and babies are being ignored and underserved.”

The initiative was developed by Blue Shield of California’s Community Health and Health Equity teams that are composed of advocates, public health professionals, and community leaders. Johnice added that expectant Black mothers and Black women also helped to inform the design of the initiative. 

Designed as a market test, Johnice said the initiative’s ultimate goal is to learn what works best from the program in the selected counties, expand proven offerings, and “identify sustainable ways to keep these services affordable and available for all members and the communities we serve.” 

Johnice expressed her confidence in the program’s ability to positively impact maternal and child health in the state. 

We believe that by investing in culturally relevant care, services, and resources as part of this program that we will create awareness of the obstacles Black mothers and babies face and model a way forward through investment, commitment, and continued development of the evidence base, such that others will follow us in, invest further, and compound the positive, measurable impact on individual and community health,” she said.

Johnice also commented on Blue Shield of California’s other maternity-focused efforts in California communities, highlighting partnerships with organizations such as Cherished Futures for Black Moms & Babies, Due Date Plus, First 5 LA and For the Village in Los Angeles and San Diego.

She also noted Blue Shield of California’s support for recent state policies that extend Medi-Cal coverage for 12 months postpartum, as well as their participation in California’s new Medi-Cal Doula Services Advisory Workgroup, which seeks to make doula services more accessible.