Medical College of Wisconsin Selected as a Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence by National Institutes of Health
Milwaukee, Oct. 10, 2023 – The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) was recently selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish a Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence. These Centers of Excellence are a key part of the NIH’s larger vision for the Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) initiative, which supports research to reduce pregnancy-related complications and deaths and to promote maternal health equity.
The Center’s lead primary investigator is Anna Palatnik, MD, associate professor and the Patrick J. and Margaret G. McMahon Endowed Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology. The focus of her research is reducing health disparities in birthing people experiencing pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, as well as improving health outcomes both during and after pregnancy. Co-leading the Center with Dr. Palatnik are the following MCW faculty: Joni S. Williams, MD, MPH, from the Center for Advancing Population Science; and Jessica Olson, PhD, MPH, and Julia Dickson-Gomez, PhD, from the Institute for Health & Equity.
“Wisconsin has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation for infants born to non-Hispanic Black birthing people. Further, Black birthing people in Wisconsin are nearly eight times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than Hispanic women and five times more than White women,” said Dr. Palatnik. “Being selected as one of only 10 research institutions in the country to establish a Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence is a unique opportunity for the Medical College of Wisconsin to directly impact those statistics and improve maternal health outcomes in our area.”
The primary goal of MCW’s Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence is to address the main social structural risk factors for racial disparities to impact maternal morbidity in Southeast Wisconsin. The NIH funding will enable MCW to partner with these community organizations – African American Breastfeeding Network, Social Development Commission, Acts Housing, City of Milwaukee Housing Authority, University of Wisconsin-Madison & Milwaukee, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, Alverno College, United Community Center, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, and Froedtert Hospital – to help inform the Center’s research projects; develop and evaluate interventions to address racial disparities in maternal health; share learnings to inform policy change; and train a diverse group of early career scientists in maternal health equity research. Funding is expected to last through August 2030.
“At the heart of maternal-infant research is community,” said Dalvery Blackwell, co-founder and executive director of the African American Breastfeeding Network. “We’re committed to this partnership in order to ensure that at the center of all conversations are the voices of the pregnant and birthing people harmed by historic and horrific mistreatment and racism in maternal care practices.”
“The Medical College of Wisconsin’s selection as a Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence acknowledges our dedication to pioneering research and compassionate care, and underscores our unwavering commitment to health equity,” said John R. Raymond, Sr., MD, president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin. “As we continue to advance maternal health and wellness, we recognize the imperative of addressing health disparities that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Every breakthrough, every partnership, and every solution we uncover, bring us closer to a future where every mother receives the highest quality of care, regardless of background or circumstance.”
According to the most recent Wisconsin Maternal Mortality Report, Black, Non-Hispanic Asian, and Hispanic mothers made up only one fourth (24%) of Wisconsin births in 2016-2017, yet they represented nearly one half (42%) of all pregnancy-related deaths. In Milwaukee County, 78% of non-Hispanic White birthing people received early prenatal care in 2020 compared to 62% of Black and 63% of Hispanic birthing people. Prenatal care that starts early and lasts throughout a pregnancy can help prevent and address health problems in pregnant people and their infants.
“Where someone lives, learns, and works has a significant impact on length and quality of life, but not everyone lives in a place that affords them the opportunity to reach their full potential. By working with community partners and policymakers, we’ll ensure that our efforts sustainably eradicate maternal health disparities in Southeast Wisconsin – and beyond,” said Dr. Palatnik.
For more information on the new network of Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence, see the NIH news release.
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