Tennessee lawmakers consider bill addressing maternal health outcomes in the state


Maddie McCarthy


The Tennessee Senate Government Operations Committee favorably recommended a bill that would establish the Tennessee Maternal Health Equity Advisory Committee Act on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 1832, sponsored by Sen. London Lamar (D – Memphis), is now pending in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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“The Tennessee Maternal Health Equity Advisory Committee … is a committee that is going to review maternal health data, identify disparities, and formulate recommendations aimed at advancing maternal health outcomes,” Lamar said at the Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

The new committee would also have a specific focus on the maternal health of minority women and those living in rural areas due to the disparities they face. Non-Hispanic Black women in Tennessee are significantly more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, and those living in rural areas have less access to maternal healthcare.

Lamar noted that the purpose of this committee is to incorporate more perspectives into the conversation surrounding the state’s maternal mortality rate. Tennessee consistently ranks among the states with the highest maternal mortality rates. 

The committee would be made up of 11 members appointed by the governor, ensuring representation from the four designated regions of the state. 

Each member of the committee must also show expertise, experience, and commitment to addressing maternal health disparities. The bill emphasizes appointing members from grassroots and community organizations.

The Tennessee Department of Health (DOH) currently has a Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC), however Lamar said MMRC is missing key voices of people doing the work on the ground to improve maternal health outcomes. Those key voices, she said, come from community organizations working with people during their maternal health journeys.

“What this does is give community organizations who are doing the work to create safe maternal communities and environments throughout the state the opportunity to make recommendations,” Lamar said.

Lamar wants the committee to work with MMRC, not replace it. The committee would meet quarterly and bring its recommendations for funding and legislation to MMRC, DOH, and the legislature.

“We have some of the highest [maternal mortality] rates in the country. We’re not doing well when it comes to taking care of mothers and babies. But we can get better.”

— Lamar

Lamar brought two maternal health community organizers forward to speak to the bill.

Femeika Elliott, a womb recovery specialist, food pathways practitioner, and owner of the Lotus Program, discussed the maternal health disparities among those with lower incomes and in different regions of the state, like West Tennessee.

“Women in West Tennessee had a higher ratio of pregnancy-related deaths than any other women in the grand regions,” Elliott said.

Elliott also spoke to her own experience working within her organization while helping people during pregnancy and postpartum.

“Community-based organizations are uniquely positioned to address critical gaps in social support that contributed to inequities in maternal healthcare,” Elliot said.

Alexis Alsup, founder of Empowered Doula Services, said the committee would allow for different healthcare providers in all areas of Tennessee to be informed of all the maternal health initiatives occuring in the state.

“The government can encourage data information sharing to leverage community based organizations’ assets and expertise,” Alsup said. “Ensuring local voices and lived experiences are incorporated into programming are essential. Community based organizations should be involved in identifying not only the problems but also the solutions.”

Alsup urged the Senate committee to support the bill.

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