NEW YORK (WABC) -- With infant mortality rates rising nationwide for the first time in two decades, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has issued new measures to combat the rates.
On Monday, Gov. Hochul signed a legislation directing the New York State Department of Health to create and maintain a statewide doula directory, making them easier to find.
Noting that she's the first New York governor to truly understand pregnancy and motherhood, Hochul signed the bill aimed at tackling the growing infant mortality rate.
"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," said the governor. "Black babies are two and a half times more likely to die than white babies."
The new law effective, January 1, 2024, expands access to care from doulas, who help guide and educate and take care of mothers through pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
This piece of legislation will promote doula services to Medicaid recipients and establish criteria for admittance into the New York State community doula directory.
The governor also announced that doula services will now be covered for all Medicaid enrollees, beginning January 1, 2024.
"Expanding access to doula services is an effective, evidence-based strategy to support expectant parents and allow their babies to grow and thrive," she said. I'm committed to doing everything in my power to tackle the disturbing rise in infant mortality."
Additionally, Hochul highlighted $4.5 million in annual funding for Regional Perinatal Centers.
"The State Health Department remains committed to addressing the increased mortality rates among Black people who give birth," said NYS Department of Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald. "Doula services can improve birth outcomes and provide families with emotional support during a time that can be challenging. I stand with Governor Hochul to continue to fight for services that will ensure all people who give birth have a safe and empowering birthing experience."
The bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Michaelle Solages of Long Island.
"Every woman deserves joy in birth. It's insane that today birthing is a business and that we are not able to provide the tools that women need," said Solages.
And doulas who helped work on the bill say having their work covered will help them help those most at risk.
"This should not be an out-of-pocket expense," said Jada Shapiro, a doula and maternal health expert. "Birth doula care should be built into the fabric of our culture and society as we are in a very over medicalized child birthing system."
Chanel Porchia-Albert of Ancient Song Doula Services stressed the importance of access and availability of these services. "Access is important, but it's also how do we continue that continuity of care," she said. "How do we build out community-based organizations so they don't feel like they have to work hand to mouth every single day, so they can do the work that they want to do, which is just to serve their communities every day."