Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul announced New York’s latest effort to combat the maternal and infant mortality rates, as infant mortality rose nationwide for the first time in decades. Legislation S.1867A/A.5435A directs the New York State Department of Health to create and maintain a New York directory of doulas – birthing experts who provide physical, emotional and informational support before, during, and after the child-birthing experience. Governor Hochul also announced that doula services will be covered for all Medicaid enrollees starting on January 1, 2024. The governor also highlighted $4.5 million in annual funding for Regional Perinatal Centers secured in the FY23 budget, which has been allocated by the New York State Department of Health.

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the Governor’s remarks is available here.

PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor’s Flickr page.

A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:

 Good afternoon. Today, I’m taking on an issue that no other governor in the entire State of New York, 56 before me, going back to the year 1777, is able to speak with the authority that I can. I’m talking about the perils of pregnancy and the real impacts on women’s health, physical and mental health.

And I will say, as the first woman Governor of this state, America’s infant and maternal mortality rates are horrific. They’re a disgrace. And last week, news came out that shook me to my core. The New York Times reported that in 2022, the infant mortality rate, which we’ve been talking about for a long time, instead of going down, it actually rose. It rose 3 percent.

The sad truth is we have a health care crisis on our hands, and not just when it comes to the babies, but their moms as well. And New York must stand up and be a leader and take action to stop this. I want to thank the leaders who’ve joined us here today. Senator Brouk, thank you for being a champion on this issue. You’ll be hearing from her in a couple minutes. Thank you.

I also want to thank Assemblymember Solages for her support, championing this through the State Assembly. We also have Shannon Johns, the founder of Calming Nature Doula Service & Center. Thank you for joining us all the way from Erie County.

Alright, that’s great. And Chanel Porcia-Albert, the founder and executive director of the Ancient Song Doula Services, as well as Antonio Reynoso from Brooklyn. Thank you for being here today to help support this.

I think it’s pretty well known that I’m not just the first woman, I’m also the first mom Governor. And raising my two children has ranks up there with some of the greatest challenges, but certainly the most rewarding experience that I’ve had in my life. I think they turned out okay. But what for some is a joyful experience, for others, it starts out in a really challenging, hard, hard way.

It comes down to whether you have support. Do you have people who understand? People who will literally hold your hand and be your advocate and champion for you. And I’m not just talking about from family and friends, but also from health care professionals who understand. And I am so focused on the well-being of moms and babies before, during, and after childbirth. But here, with women dying at a higher rate during childbirth than in other wealthy, developed nations around the world, why would we be among the last? We should be the first. We should be something where there should be a statistic that we’re proud of.

We’re double the rate of our peer countries in terms of both infant and maternal mortality. And like many other injustices, race certainly is a factor. Black babies are two and a half times more likely to die than White babies. Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth. That’s not acceptable. That’s wrong. It’s unconscionable. No woman of color, and I’ve heard them talk about this, should fear starting a family and getting pregnant because they don’t know if that’s going to be a death sentence for them.

Have we really come to that in this great country and here in the State of New York? It doesn’t have to be this way. Most of these are preventable. And, to have this state of affairs in the 21st century is not only shameful, it has wider implications because women and babies who don’t get the care they need, they suffer. Communities suffer. Our entire state suffers.

We have been focused on this. We are starting to see, in our own state, more promising results. Back in 2010, we were 46th in the nation when it came down to maternal mortality. The most recent rating, we’re at 15 percent. That’s progress. But is anybody satisfied with that? No, not here in the State of New York. And we’re currently ranked fourth for the lowest infant mortality rates.

But no baby should have to die unnecessarily. We still have more work to do to expand high quality health care. So, I’m here to talk about some of the latest updates on our work to take on the maternal and infant mortality crisis. Perinatal care has many different elements, different stages. And some of the people who are out there through every phase of it are the doulas. We’ve got a lot of doulas in this room today. Raise your hand. Alright, the doula convention.

As I mentioned, Ancient Song and Calming Nature. I want to thank you for joining us here today to represent thousands of doulas from across the state. And those of you who are wondering, what is a doula? Here’s your little tutorial. They’re part of the birthing team along with doctors and midwives. But the team doesn’t just start at delivery. These are experts who provide physical, emotional, and information support. They’re the advocates, they’re champions who stand up and question a decision that someone else may not be in a condition to or have the understanding to do.

So, they bring their experience, their knowledge to bear with every single client, their patient they take on. It typically starts a few months into the pregnancy, continues into post-partum care because as we know, it’s also a really hard time for moms too and a lot of people don’t talk about it. They don’t understand it. And it’s perfectly natural, but you still need some help. They advocate for women’s needs during the delivery process, but also making sure that care is tailored and it’s appropriate for the individual woman.

No one size fits all here. We take care of the individual. And it also helps reduce the impact of the racial bias on pregnant people of color. Now there’s a growing body of research that shows doula care is related to reduced C-sections, premature deliveries, reduced likelihood of postpartum depression, so they have a vital role to play, and they’re being successful. And they create real, real benefits for their patients.

And not only are a lot of New Yorkers not familiar with the services they provide, they have no idea how to find one, right? Unless you walk in this room, you’re probably not going to find one very easily. But we can solve that. It’s not complicated. We’re going to make doula care as accessible to as many New Yorkers as possible in communities where they’re needed the most.

So, I’m pleased to announce that in a few minutes I’ll be signing a bill that’ll help create the New York State doula directory to connect New Yorkers with licensed doulas. And I want to again thank our champions in the front row. Let’s give them a huge round of applause, Senator Brouk and Assemblymember Solages, for sponsoring this legislation.

It’ll be easier to find them. It’ll ultimately reduce barriers to getting good quality maternal care, infant care, and helping these areas where we’re trying to fight and drive down the mortality rates. But also, you may find a doula, but some are going to say, “How do I afford this extra coverage? How do I afford this? Is this something I can pay for?”

And for too long, these services were not covered by our health care providers, including Medicaid. They just didn’t cover it. That’s not going to happen any longer. Today I’m announcing that doula coverage will be available to all Medicaid enrollees in New York State starting January 1.

And we’re able to do so because of changes we pushed in last year’s budget. I’ve only had two budgets to work on, but this was one of my priorities, to make sure that we have access and affordability for families. So, we’ve extended the postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months. Okay, who would think you’re fine after 60 days?

I’ve been there. You’re not feeling great after 60 days. So, we extend the coverage for an entire year and expanded it to cover critical services for new moms and reimbursement for midwives and doulas.

Finally, we know how hard it is, how critical it is to make sure that they recognize, the doctors and hospitals recognize the unique challenges facing parents and newborns. Here in New York, we have 17 regional perinatal centers across the state. The amazing work they do for moms and babies, including the NICUs. Last year, I pushed for record funding to support them to make sure they can continue their urgent work. And it’s so important, especially when these rates of mortality are rising.

We’re announcing today that the $4.5 million dollars that we allocated in the budget is out there in all these regional perinatal centers to do this extraordinary work. So that money is out there in our community. Let me close with this. As a mom, and a new grandma, my grandbaby, makes me feel really old, is the same age as Senator Brouk’s little daughter Leah, 18 months old.

18 months is a real challenge, isn’t it? I don’t know how you do it, girl. I don’t know. But here’s our commitment. We’re not going to lose any mother or any baby because of the color of their skin. We’re not going to do that anymore. We’re going to treat everyone equally. Racial disparities exist in every facet of life – in education, in housing, in health care, in employment. Well let’s leave here committed with the belief that everyone deserves, everyone deserves, a healthy start from the very, very first breath, and that they can be free from the racism that has taken the lives of too many moms and babies for too long. It ends now. It ends on our watch because that is an injustice in its purest form and I won’t tolerate it.

We will right the wrongs of the past and ensure that every mom and baby gets first rate care, support from doulas, a state that understands their challenges, and finally, eradicate this insidious form of racism which has plagued our state for far too long.

That is what we’re going to do, and it is now my pleasure to introduce someone who’s been an amazing champion, our Senator from Upstate New York, nothing wrong with Upstate New York, right, Senator? Samra Brouk.