HHS announces funding and new initiatives for the maternal health crisis

Sept. 27, 2023

On Sept. 27, as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Maternal Health Day of Action, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced several new actions to address the nation’s longstanding maternal health crisis. Secretary Becerra hosted a roundtable with the Health Resources and Services Administrator Carole Johnson as well as providers, advocacy organizations, and state and local leaders in Baltimore, Maryland. Secretary Becerra announced that HHS is awarding more than $103 million to support and expand access to maternal health, forming a new task force to address maternal mental health conditions and co-occurring substance use disorders, and launching a national public education campaign, Talking Postpartum Depression, to provide information about and combat stigmatization associated with this significant public health issue.

The actions are the latest steps by HHS and the Biden-Harris Administration to fulfill the President’s Unity Agenda, and continue implementation of the White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis - PDF, a whole-of-government strategy to combat maternal mortality and improve maternal and infant health, particularly in underserved communities. 

“Our nation is facing a maternal mortality crisis. Women in our nation are dying from pregnancy-related causes before, during, and after childbirth at a higher rate than any other developed nation,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. “I directed our government agencies to come up with deliberate and tangible plans to address the maternal health crisis in this country. Today’s announcement of additional strategic investments to address the maternal health crisis demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of all women and their families.”

“HHS is taking action to improve maternal care, help new moms, and ensure their children have the healthiest start in life,” said Secretary Becerra. “The actions we announced today further demonstrate the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to strengthen both maternal health and maternal mental health.”

In recent decades, the United States’ maternal mortality rate has been among the highest of any developed nation. Disparities in mortality are stark — Black and Indigenous women are more than three and two times as likely, respectively, as White women to die from pregnancy-related causes.  The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to reversing these trends and making the U.S. the best country in the world to have a baby.

HHS is awarding nearly $90 million through various HRSA programs to expand access to maternal health care, including in areas with fewer providers; to support parents in communities with the highest rates; to grow and support the maternal health workforce; and to expand screening and treatment for maternal depression and other mental health and substance use disorders.

  • Expand and Diversify the Perinatal Workforce: HRSA is investing $12.5 million to expand the maternal health workforce.  This includes $8 million to train and deploy more nurse midwives by supporting nurse midwifery programs at 10 universities and $4.5 million to establish the Institute for Home Visiting Workforce Development and Jackie Walorski Center for Evidence-Based Case Management to support state Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting programs as they recruit and train the workforce.
  • Increasing Access to Maternal Health Services: HRSA is investing over $34 million to increase access to maternity care in underserved and rural communities.  This includes more than $24 million to establish maternal health task forces to implement strategies to improve maternal health service delivery; nearly $2 million to support rural communities; and more than $8 million to improve pregnancy and postpartum care by expanding access to health and social services.
  • Supporting Parents and Families: HRSA is investing nearly $32 million to provide support to patients and families.  This includes nearly $9 million to support 12 states in training OB/GYNs, midwives and other maternal health providers in treating behavioral health; $11 million to fund new programs through Healthy Start Initiative to provide direct services to pregnant and postpartum mothers; nearly $6 million to ensure that new mothers and their families are supported during the Medicaid redetermination process associated with the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and more than $5.5 million to support 28 states and jurisdictions to implement “patient safety bundles” in birthing facilities through the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) program.
  • Investing in maternal health research:  HRSA is investing nearly $10 million to establish a new research network that will support minority serving institutions of higher learning to study the disparities in maternal health outcomes and identify effective methods and strategies for addressing them.

“At the Health Resources and Services Administration, we are laser-focused on reversing this crisis by expanding access to maternal care, growing the maternal care workforce, supporting moms experiencing maternal depression, and addressing the important social supports that are vital to safe pregnancies” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson. “We know it will take a sustained approach to reduce and eliminate maternal health disparities and we are committed to this work.”

The HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) is also awarding more than $13 million in grants to 11 organizations for its Healthy Families Community-Based Perinatal Health Initiative (COPHI) to develop innovative models for integrating community-based maternal support services into perinatal systems of care. Community-based maternal support services address social determinants of health, such as health literacy; pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting education; cultural and linguistic diversity; exposure to trauma; housing; food; and transportation.

Addressing maternal mental health is the focus of two new HHS initiatives also being announced today:

The Task Force on Maternal Mental Health, co-chaired by HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine, M.D. and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., will identify, evaluate, and make recommendations to coordinate and improve federal activities related to improving data and health equity as well as identify and create a strategy to implement best practices around prevention, screening, and diagnosis; evidence-based intervention and treatment; evidence-based community practices; and communications and community engagement. Ensuring mental health equity and promoting trauma-informed practices will remain a focus.

“The Biden-Harris administration has prioritized transforming behavioral health. We are committed to providing the full spectrum of integrated, equitable, evidence-based, culturally appropriate, and person-centered behavioral healthcare,” said HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm. “The launch of the Maternal Mental Health Task Force is an important step towards achieving this goal.”

The task force is made up of both federal and nonfederal members, including those with lived experience. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) and the Office of the Assistance Secretary for Health and the Office on Women’s Health are collaborating to use the existing SAMHSA Advisory Committee for Women’s Services (ACWS) to support the task force.

The Office on Women's Health (OWH) has also launched a national campaign to educate women about postpartum depression (PPD) and encourage them to seek help for PPD. Talking Postpartum Depression features personal stories of women from diverse backgrounds who have experienced and sought support for PPD. The campaign aims to increase awareness of PPD symptoms, visibility of reliable resources, and understanding of the many ways to access care. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious mental health condition that significantly impacts a woman’s physical and psychological health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 13.4% of U.S. women report PPD symptoms in the 12 months after childbirth. Research shows 1 in 8 women who have given birth in the last year experience symptoms of postpartum depression.

HHS launched the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline on Mother’s Day in 2022.

For more information about the HRSA awards, visit the FY 2023 Maternal Health Awards page.For more information about the OMH awards, visit: FY 2023 OMH Perinatal Grant Awards.For more information on the task force, visit the Task Force on Maternal Mental Health.For more information about the Talking Postpartum Depression campaign, visit www.womenshealth.gov/talkingPPD.

HHS launched the AI/AN Hear Campaign in November 2022.

Photo 198602321 | Healthcare © Nastassia Samal | Dreamstime.com
Illustration 95879673 © Sandamali Fernando | Dreamstime.com
Photo 202771086 © Kapil Joshi | Dreamstime.com
Photo 159538255 © Thanee Hengpattanapong | Dreamstime.com
Photo 144935703 © Andrey Metelev | Dreamstime.com