A group of Spokane advocates is working to improve perinatal maternal health equity and well-being outcomes for families through public policy advocacy.
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Andrea Estes and Stephaine Courtney are spearheading advocacy efforts to support several family initiatives. Courtney is the executive director of both The Learning Project and Shades of Motherhood. Estes is the sexual and reproductive health programs innovation manager at the Washington State Health Care Authority.
“It’s a group of child care, birthing supports, and mental health advocacy [professionals], and doulas,” Estes said. “The idea behind it is to strengthen supports for moms and families.”
Estes and Courtney started collaborating with a group of locals about two years ago, and kicked off their advocacy efforts with a trip to Washington, DC, in September 2022. Eleven advocates, including nine from Spokane, convened on Capitol Hill to support the Mom Congress organization.
“We were able to meet with our state senators,” Courtney said. “They wanted to know what the voices in our community were talking about. We were able to bring live voices from Spokane around maternal health and suicide prevention. We need to take a bottom-up approach and build for the people who live here, stay here, and are not wanting to leave.”
The group will be advocating for several federal initiatives this year, including the Midwives for Maximizing Optimal Maternity Services Act. The legislation would address maternity care provider shortages in rural and underserved areas throughout the country, aiming to improve maternal and child health outcomes, especially among underrepresented Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian women. It also aims to scale up and diversify the midwifery workforce.
Courtney said there is an absence of mental healthcare supports for women in Spokane.
“In Spokane, there’s up to an eight week wait time for people who are screened for [mental health] treatment and that’s not sustainable,” Courtney said. “Women in the northeast area of Spokane were getting treated at a 4% rate. After they had babies, we knew they needed care, but only 4% were getting services.”
The group will also advocate for the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act, TRIUMPH for New Moms Act, the Into the Light Act, and the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.
“Washington [state] is very progressive in postpartum care, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Courtney said. “One traumatic accident is too many; one mom that is not being cared for after postpartum care. And they’re dealing with mental health [challenges]. We need to find the right resources to care for them. There are many people suffering from different aspects of the health system and we need to take an actionable approach because of the silencing of voices around black women. But these solutions will go to everyone.”