Maternal Health Symposium Promotes Collaboration


Judith M. Persichilli, R.N., B.S.N., M.A., Acting Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health (2nd from L) poses with Ilise Zimmerman and Dr. Andrew Rubenstein.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, the national maternal mortality rate has more than doubled since 1988. In an effort to mobilize collective efforts to address this urgent health crisis, 300 health care professionals gathered on November 1 at the Clinton Inn in Tenafly for the 2nd Annual Maternal Health and Perinatal Safety Symposium.

The Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey and Hackensack Meridian Health convened this thought-provoking one-day conference to promote collaboration and best practices to reduce maternal and infant mortality, address racial and ethnic disparities, and promote health equity. Pregnancy-related death is defined by the CDC as the death of a woman while pregnant or within one year of the end of a pregnancy –regardless of the outcome, duration or site of the pregnancy–from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.

The conference agenda focused on health equity, racial and ethnic disparities, patient empowerment, family engagement, and the power of collaboration to improve maternal outcomes. Dr. Andrew F. Rubenstein, Chair, Total Quality Improvement Committee for the Partnership and Co-Chair of the Symposium and Co-Chair of the Symposium, noted, “If one woman dies from pregnancy-related causes, there are one-hundred times as many who experience a “near miss”. “As physicians and health care professionals, it is our duty to address maternal care on multiple levels to reduce pregnancy related complications and preventable deaths.”

The First Lady of the State of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy, opened the program underscoring the state’s commitment to improving maternal care and reducing racial and social-economic disparities in health. The First Lady has championed quality improvement in maternal health during her tenure. Later in the day, Acting Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli, R.N., B.S.N., M.A. addressed the crowd and shared how her experience as a nurse positively informs policy decisions.

Charles Johnson, IV, Founder, 4Kira4Moms

The Symposium featured an outstanding selection of nationally and internationally recognized speakers. Gerard H. A. Visser, MD, PhD, Emeritus Professor Obstetrics, University Medical Center of Utrecht discussed “International Perspectives on Prevention in Women’s Health”; Dr. Haywood Brown of the University of Florida presented on “Health Equity in Vulnerable Populations”; and Dr. Elliott Main of Stanford University, shared best practices in maternal care that have been successful in California, a state that has been a leader in maternal care.

The breakout sessions included robust discussions on respectful maternity care, the impact of the opioid epidemic on women and infant health and preventing premature birth led by Lynn Freedman, J.D., M.P.H. from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University; Dr. Rahul Gupta from the March of Dimes; and Melita Jordan from the New Jersey Department of Health.

Dr. Arthur James, Consultant to First Year Cleveland and Consultant/Evaluator to the Indianapolis Healthy Start Program concluded the day with a thoughtful discussion of the role of racism in healthcare and how 400 years of slavery adversely impacts the experience and health of Black men and women in the United States today.

One of the symposium highlights was a presentation by Charles Johnson, IV, Founder of 4Kira4Moms, who shared the story of his wife Kira’s death during childbirth. As Mr. Johnson pleaded with hospital staff to attend to Kira, who had been hemorrhaging, they repeatedly ignored his requests with one nurse replying, “Sir, your wife just isn’t a priority right now.” Kira languished for hours and eventually passed away, leaving behind her husband and two young sons. The joyful experience of childbirth turned tragic in an instant. Kira’s death was preventable and her story strongly resonated with the crowd of physicians, nurses, social workers, and public health professionals.

“The Partnership plays a vital role in educating health professionals, as well as consumers, as to how to improve health outcomes. We are an independent, non-profit whose Board is comprised of clinical experts, hospital representatives and community leaders.,” stated Ilise Zimmerman, President and CEO of the Partnership and Co-Chair of the Symposium. “I am encouraged by the outstanding response to the Symposium and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure safe births in New Jersey.”

The Partnership wishes to acknowledge our generous Symposium supporters:, Inserra Supermarkets, Inc. – ShopRite, The Nicholson Foundation, OBIX Clinical Computer Systems Inc., Family Health Initiatives, Gauss Surgical, Rudy’s Inflight Catering/Sal’s Good Eats, Joseph M. Sanzari, Inc., Sage Therapeutics, SEMA4, and the Fetal Medicine Foundation of America.

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