A new program promoting better health care outcomes for mothers and their infants is heading to Central Texas.

Huston-Tillotson University and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas have partnered to launch Boldly BLUE, a program aimed at improving and reducing disparities in maternal and infant health care, officials from the organizations announced Sept. 14.

“Texas is increasingly a dangerous place to be a mom and to be a baby,” said Dr. Angela Moemeka, BCBSTX chief medical officer of Texas Medicaid. “We know the rates of maternal mortality and morbidity and the rates especially of serious maternal morbidity are worsening and that this disparity weighs heavily on Black moms and Black women.”

The overview

The Boldly BLUE program, which stands for birthing, learning, understanding and empowering, will focus on increasing the number of culturally aligned maternal health care workers in Central Texas and conducting collaborative research to inform advocacy, policy and public health measures.

BCBSTX granted the historically Black college $763,500 to begin the program as the insurance company is expanding its maternal health care initiative. The recent expansion comes in light of a 2022 state report that found 90% of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas were preventable with non-Hispanic Black women being the most impacted, said Mark Chassay, BCBSTX vice president and chief medical officer.

“With this crisis knocking on the door and our door especially at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, we are now dedicating substantial support and resources all across our state to support and improve the health outcomes of Texas mothers and their babies,” Chassay said.

The impact

Boldly B.L.U.E will provide training for doulas, certified midwives and lactation consultants, all of which reduce poor maternal health outcomes, said Dr. Amanda Masino, Huston-Tillotson chair of natural sciences and associate professor of biology. A key part of the program will focus on ensuring birth workers are as diverse as the women they serve, Moemeka said.

“These birth workers protect the health of mothers and infants. We need more of them,” Masino said. "We want to focus on increasing doulas but also diversifying the profession and making sure that the women who need them most have access to them."

Moemeka said doulas are especially important in reducing maternal health care disparities for Black women as they provide more personalized and consistent support for mothers and their families before, during and after pregnancy.

“With non-Hispanic Black moms, what truly is moving the needle are our black doulas working with them in their communities,” Moemeka said. “[Doulas are] trusted agents that they can share things with that they may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable to share with their [obstetrician].”

What's next?

In October, Healing Hands Community Doula Project will begin training its first cohort of doulas and community health workers, who will also attend business- and research-related workshops at the university. BCBSTX's grant covers the full cost of the program and will allow doulas to walk away with additional funds, Masino said.

“We want the doulas to be business savvy because we want finances to be one less barrier to entry or sustainability,” said Dr. Rohan Thompson, the dean of Huston-Tillotson's School of Business and Technology.

Over the next year, university faculty and staff will work to develop curriculum for certified midwives and lactation consultants to debut in fall 2024. Faculty across various departments will also begin conducting research focusing on the experience of birth workers and women as well as collaborating with community organizations, such as Black Mamas ATX, Masino said.

Learn more

The program’s first training for doulas and community health workers will begin Oct. 15. Click here to sign up for the training, partner with or learn more about the program.