The home visitation pilot program, run through Harris County Public Health, will pair around 300 mothers with community health workers to provide access to both prenatal and postpartum care, according to HCPH’s proposal for ARPA funding. The program will last for about five years and split the participants into four cohorts for two years each.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo cited high county maternal mortality rates as an impetus for the program. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from the HCPH proposal showed that in 2020, there was an average of 54.85 deaths per 100,000 live births in Harris County, greater than the 42.10 in Texas; nationally, the rate in 2020 was 23.8, according to a CDC report.
“Having children and starting a family should be one of the most beautiful times in a woman’s life,” Hidalgo said at a news conference before the court meeting. “But for too many women, this turns to tragedy.”
The program will focus on Black mothers, who face a higher risk of pregnancy-related death than the county average and the highest risk among all demographic groups; in 2020, the Black maternal mortality rate in Harris County was 106.01 per 100,000 live births, according to the HCPH proposal. Among county maternal mortality rates by race from 2016-20, Black mothers had a rate of 94.8, compared to the 37.75 rate for Asian and Pacific Islander mothers; 26 for Hispanic mothers; and 23.5 for white mothers.
Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry appeared at court to commend the efforts by the county and said the Texas House of Representatives will prioritize maternal care in its upcoming session. Sharing her own experience with a life-threatening pregnancy complication, she emphasized maternal death cuts across socioeconomic boundaries and education levels.
“No woman who chooses to give birth should do so in exchange for her own [life].” Thierry said.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who Hidalgo said took the lead on this initiative, pointed to the evidence-based nature of the maternal care program, which will draw from other U.S. programs.
“We have the benefit of learning from mistakes and best practices around the country. We are probably the last among the urban areas to do a pilot program of this nature,” Ellis said. “That’s both good and bad—bad in that it took so long, but good in that we benefit from mistakes and we benefit from the data that other people came up with."
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle seconded the motion by Ellis to vote on the $7.75 million investment, calling the program “a rare display of bipartisanship.”
Previous Community Impact Newspaper reporting discussed the rise of maternal mortality rates along with efforts to reduce those rates in the Houston area. Outreach for the county program is set to begin in October, according to the HCPH proposal.