Morehouse School of Medicine's Center for Maternal Health Equity Studies Causes of Health Inequity Among Pregnant Black Women

Research explores Maternal Near Misses, a condition that occurs when a woman nearly dies but survives from a complication occurring during pregnancy, childbirth or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy.

ATLANTA – JULY 1, 2021 – Morehouse School of Medicine’s Center for Maternal Health Equity is launching a research study designed to explore the causes and issues behind health inequity among pregnant and post-partum Black women in the U.S.

Starting in July 2021, Black mothers in Georgia, New Jersey, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia, will be invited to take part in an interview process to discuss Maternal Near Misses (MNM), a condition that occurs when a woman nearly dies, but survives from a complication occurring during pregnancy, childbirth or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy.  The research project will also incorporate incarcerated women. To date, this important perspective has been missing from the maternal health studies.

More than 700 women die each year in this country from problems related to pregnancy or delivery complications – this is not only tragic, but largely preventable,” said President Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, Morehouse School of Medicine.

Georgia, New Jersey, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia have the highest maternal mortality rates among Black women in the U.S. What is not documented are MNM incidents during pregnancy and birth. An estimated 50,000 women experience severe, unexpected health problems related to pregnancy that may have long-term health consequences. The research interviews will explore the women’s stories including their pregnancies and birth experiences, and the care they received. The insights will identify ways to provide more equitable care to this community and be used as data points to influence maternal health legislation, clinical practice, and health care strategy.

Optum, the health services business of UnitedHealth Group, contributed a $95,000 grant for the project and will provide an estimated $300,000 for support in conducting the research and other pro bono services. Funding from the state of Georgia through the Center will also support this project, with assistance from community partner Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere.

“Optum is committed to addressing the nation’s maternal health crisis where poor outcomes disproportionately impact communities of color,” said Dr. Janice Huckaby, chief medical officer, Maternal-Child Health, Optum. “By partnering with the Morehouse School of Medicine we will conduct important research that will help improve the health of mothers and newborns.”

“Projects such as Near Miss and the work of the Center for Maternal Health Equity will educate the public about the issue and help mothers and their babies thrive through healthy pregnancies and safe birthing experiences,” says Dr. Natalie Hernandez, assistant professor and interim director, Center for Maternal Health Equity at Morehouse School of Medicine. “The goal of this project is to lift up and center Black and other women of color to share their stories to help us identify ways to help. The information will help educate women and those who care for them and support them about the urgent warning signs of pregnancy-related complications. We also plan to submit their stories to the National Library of Medicine, to ensure these women’s voices will not only be heard, but never forgotten.”

Established in 2019, the Center for Maternal Health Equity’s mission is to pursue equity in maternal health by reducing maternal morbidity and mortality locally, nationally, and globally by building and strengthening community-academic partnerships, developing a competitive translational research program, and offering interdisciplinary and professional training. For more information on this project, and Morehouse School of Medicine’s Center for Maternal Health Equity, contact Program Manager Shamonica McGill at

 About Morehouse School of Medicine

Founded in 1975, Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) is among the nation’s leading educators of primary care physicians, biomedical scientists, and public health professionals. An independent and private historically-Black medical school, MSM was recognized by the Annals of Internal Medicine as the nation’s number one medical school in fulfilling a social mission—the creation and advancement of health equity. MSM faculty and alumni are noted for excellence in teaching, research, and public policy, as well as exceptional patient care. MSM is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award doctoral and master’s degrees. To learn more about programs and donate today, please visit or call 404-752-1500.

 About Optum

Optum is a leading information and technology-enabled health services business dedicated to helping make the health system work better for everyone. With more than 190,000 people worldwide, Optum delivers intelligent, integrated solutions that help to modernize the health system and improve overall population health. Optum is part of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH). For more information, visit


Nicole V. Linton

Brad Lotterman