New Jersey has committed $75 million to a new maternal health center

Photo credit: (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, file)
File Photo: A doctor uses a hand-held Doppler probe to measure the heartbeat of a pregnant woman’s fetus.

The Murphy administration has now raised about $75 million, which officials believe is enough to build the Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center in Trenton, a key part of First Lady Tammy Murphy’s campaign to improve the dismal Maternal mortality results in New Jersey.

The state budget, passed and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy last week, provides $50 million in equity funding for the project from the state’s Economic Development Agency, which has been working for two years to collect contributions and find the best location in Trenton to determine who currently lacks a maternity hospital. Thanks to federal pandemic funding from previous state budgets, the agency has already committed nearly $23 million to the project.

NJ has a comprehensive maternal health plan in place, but it will take time

EDA CEO Tim Sullivan said the state is also waiting for news about a $25 million federal grant for the project. If that funding comes through, Sullivan says the project will need only about $30 million of the $50 million earmarked in the new budget Murphy signed Friday after lawmakers fought to keep the 54, $3 billion fiscal 2024 spending plan to be approved before July 1 deadline.

Tammy Murphy said she was “incredibly grateful” for the $30 million that “will bring in.” [the center] come to fruition,” it said in a written statement to NJ Spotlight News. “This funding will allow us to establish and staff the Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Authority and build the Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center. Located in our state capital, Trenton, this center will be the first of its kind and will serve not only as a hub of maternal and child health services for the community, but also as a state-of-the-art research and innovation facility that will position New “Jersey is statewide.” leader and gold standard for maternal health care and policy,” Murphy said. “We look forward to making official progress on these two facilities that will continue to serve our state’s mothers, babies and families for generations to come.”

New Jersey has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in America and the country as a whole lags far behind other developed countries.

Legislators also last week introduced legislation creating the Maternal Health Board, an independent government agency tasked with overseeing the operations of the Trenton Center and coordinating the state’s many initiatives to improve maternal health. Legislators originally introduced legislation to create the agency and give it $23.2 million to cover startup costs and ongoing support. However, at Tuesday’s hearings, they reduced the funding allocation to $2.2 million to cover just startup costs.

For Rep. Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer), a major sponsor representing Trenton, the change made sense. She agreed that capital funding should come through the EDA and that legislation should be limited to start-up costs. She also sponsored amendments that emphasize the need for diverse representation on the agency’s board of directors and on a community advisory committee, both of which are required by the bill.

Saving mothers’ lives

The Trenton Center has become a priority for Tammy Murphy, who sees it as a way to continue improving maternal health outcomes even after her husband leaves office. Murphy is now halfway through his second and final four-year term. The goals of Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ campaign, as outlined in 2021, are to halve the state’s maternal mortality rate and eliminate racial disparities within five years.

New Jersey has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in America and the country as a whole lags far behind other developed countries. An analysis by the state Department of Health of the 125 deaths in pregnant women in 2016-2018 – the latest available data – found that 90% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. This analysis also found that black women had a 6.6 times higher risk of death and Hispanic women had a 3.5 times higher risk of death compared to white women. About 100,000 babies are born each year in New Jersey, which has 48 hospital-based birthing centers.

With the help of lawmakers, the state has taken several steps to improve those numbers by expanding insurance coverage for pregnant women, expanding access to doulas — non-clinical birth consultants who can advocate for mothers — tightening birth records in hospitals, and offered anti-bias training to doctors and nurses. Other programs are still in the works, such as an initiative to send a nurse to visit every family with a newborn, adopted or stillborn child within weeks of their return home.

These reforms could work. New reports suggest that New Jersey’s birthing centers have reduced rates of potentially fatal bleeding and unnecessary cesareans, which can lead to complications for both mother and baby. Those doing this work want to ensure that these positive trends continue.

“We must maintain the momentum and pace of change to improve maternal and infant health and reduce inequalities — particularly for black pregnant women,” said Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a policy organization , which has focused on maternal and infant health programs for a decade. The Institute has codified Nurture NJ’s goals into an action plan designed to be easy to implement.

“The work requires focused commitment from the state, employers, the hospital and many others. New Jersey has been a national leader on this issue for the past several years and we hope it remains so,” said Schwimmer, who is part of a multi-stakeholder collaboration now reporting to the Department of Health to implement improvements. This work is being relocated to the Trenton Center in accordance with agency laws.

Cooperation with Kean University

To build the Trenton maternal health center, the EDA has partnered with Kean University’s John S. Watson Institute, which predicted in October that selecting a site and collecting community input would be completed sometime this year. The agency also began a nationwide search for a director a few years ago, but has yet to hire anyone to run the facility.

Work is also underway on a separate birth house at the former site of Mount Zion AME Church on Pennington Avenue in Trenton. Mount Zion’s Community Development Department is renovating the building to house a violence intervention program and clinic tailored to the needs of the community. Rev. Charles Boyer said in October that the project is expected to cost up to $4 million; The church had $2 million in public funds from previous state budgets and sought other philanthropic funds. The new state budget also earmarks 200,000 US dollars for this project.

Reynolds-Jackson, representing Trenton, was among the dignitaries who welcomed the project at a ceremony last fall. “This is community-centered and community-led,” said Rosalee Boyer, the pastor’s wife, known in the community as “First Lady Boyer.”

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