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As part of the American Heart Association’s pledge to address social determinants of health in women of color, Alison Stuebe, MD, and her team of researchers received a $2.4-million grant to develop a curriculum that cultivates trust among patients and health team members.

More than 25% pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are tied to poor heart health, especially among women of color, putting both mothers-to-be and their babies at risk, according to the American Heart Association Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2022 Update. To address this issue, the American Heart Association is funding a new $20-million initiative comprised of a network of special projects focused on advancing the understanding of the factors underlying the disproportionate impact of maternal complications and deaths among Black women, Native American women and those living in rural areas.

The Health Equity Research Network (HERN) on Disparities in Maternal-Infant Health Outcomes is part of the multi-pronged approach of the American Heart Association’s unprecedented pledge to aggressively address social determinants of health, while working to improve health equity for all communities. UNC-CH’s joint collaboration with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T) in Greensboro, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), is among the five targeted research projects set to begin in July and run for the next four years to help implement change in health services for women of color.

The project, led by Alison M. Stuebe, MD,  professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UNC School of Medicine, and Kimberly D. Harper, MSN, RN, MHA, a registered nurse with 17 years of experience in maternal and child health, is called “Building Equitable Linkages with Interprofessional Education Valuing Everyone (BELIEVE).” It aims to transform perinatal and reproductive health services so that each mother, birthing person, and health team member is seen, heard, and valued. The project plans to develop a curriculum for interprofessional education and collaboration that cultivates trust among patients and health team members through respectful, equitable and person-centered care and communication. Using a stepped-wedge design, researchers will quantify BELIEVE’s impact on health team members, provider-patient interactions, and healthcare processes and outcomes.

Kimberly C. Harper, PhD, N.C. A&T
Kimberly C. Harper, PhD, N.C. A&T

UNC’s part of the project includes engaging patients, families, and healthcare team members to assess gaps in current practice and quantify learning needs for collaborative, equitable care. Researchers also plan to develop and test the BELIEVE IPE Curriculum, as well as, implement the BELIEVE curriculum and quantify its impact. The team received a $2.4 million grant from the AHA to go towards this project.

Janiya Mitnaul Williams, MA, IBCLC, CLC,
Janiya Mitnaul Williams, MA, IBCLC, CLC, N.C. A&T

Additional team members leading the project from N.C. A&T include: Kimberly C. Harper, PhD, a professor of English whose research areas are in Black maternal health and ethos, Black rhetorics of healthcare, and reproductive justice, and Janiya Mitnaul Williams, MA, IBCLC, CLC, a lactation consultant and the program director of the N.C. A&T’s Human Lactation Program.

In collaboration with UNC, the team will work with community and health team members to develop a training focused on healing the traumas experienced by families, patients and healthcare team members as a result of structural determinants of health that are the root cause of health inequities in systems. Researchers will use focus groups and web-based surveys to define equitable care and determine how to build trust in the healthcare system; use information from surveys and focus groups to create learning objectives and content for training of medical students in education programs for healthcare team members; and assess health outcomes after the training is implemented.

The overall goal is to develop a training that can be used nationally to reduce disparities. The team hopes to find lower pain scores among Black mothers, less formula supplementation, more support for breastfeeding and less negative comments in the medical chart once the training is in place.

For more information on the American Heart Association’s latest health equity research network initiative, click here.

Media contact: Brittany Phillips