RELEASE: Gottheimer, Underwood Advocate for Federal Action to Improve Maternal Health with Momnibus

Gottheimer urges House leadership to bring the Momnibus up for a vote. Gottheimer Announces new health grants portal to help invest in Jersey maternal health.

Jun 11, 2024
Press

Above: Gottheimer, Underwood advocate for federal action to improve maternal health.

HACKENSACK, NJ — Today, Tuesday, June 11, 2024, U.S. Representatives Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and Lauren Underwood (IL-14) advocated for greater federal action to improve maternal health and address the United States’s maternal mortality crisis. Before making the announcement, Gottheimer and Underwood toured Hackensack University Medical Center’s Maternal Health Ward.

Video of Gottheimer’s announcement can be found here.

According to research released just last month from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, more than 600 women died of pregnancy-related causes each year between 2018 and 2022. 103 mothers passed away in New Jersey between 2018 and 2021 due to pregnancy-related causes. New Jersey has one of the worst racial disparities in the country when it comes to maternal mortality. Black mothers in New Jersey are seven times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than White mothers. Hispanic mothers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die. But, research also shows that this is a solvable crisis. The CDC has reported that four in every five pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable.

Congressman Gottheimer is a cosponsor of the the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act or Momnibus, a collection of thirteen bills which Congresswoman Underwood introduced, focused on addressing the social determinants of health, strengthening the maternal health support system, and collecting better data surrounding the maternal health crisis.

“We are blessed to live in the greatest country in the world, but our health outcomes should reflect that fact. We cannot stand by as thousands of women pass away from preventable conditions and thousands of babies grow up, robbed of their moms,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), a member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. “That’s why I’m taking steps with Congresswoman Underwood to put a stop to our country’s maternal health crisis.”

“I’m so thankful for Congressman Gottheimer’s strong voice as a leader on this issue and for partnering with us to advance the Momnibus” said Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14), co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. “Moms across our country have been demanding a comprehensive solution to this crisis. And so, we looked at the data, we talked to the experts, and we talked to community leaders, and we wrote that comprehensive solution. The Momnibus is designed to solve America’s maternal health crisis, and I’m so grateful that we have great partners in Congress like Representative Gottheimer and Senator Booker alongside us as we get this legislation signed into law.”

“Hackensack Meridian Health, the largest and most comprehensive health care network in New Jersey, one of the country’s most diverse states, is deeply committed to ensuring that there is equality and opportunity for all, especially our mothers and babies,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “Our healthcare professionals have been working to address racial and ethnic disparities by focusing on improving cultural competency and reducing inherent bias and we are thrilled to now champion this historic Act and the positive influence it will have on our national policies.”

“Hackensack University Medical Center, the first hospital in the nation to earn the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for Advanced Certification in Perinatal Care for demonstrating exceptional standards and outcomes in the care of infants and mothers, is proud to support the MOMNIBUS legislative package with the goal of saving the lives of mothers and addressing every dimension of the maternal health crisis in this country. Our extraordinary team of physicians and nurses work tirelessly every day to achieve outstanding outcomes for all members of the communities we serve,” said Mark D. Sparta, FACHE, President & Chief Hospital Executive of Hackensack University Medical Center and President, North Region for the Hackensack Meridian Health Network.

Gottheimer’s New Action to Support Maternal Health Includes:

  • letter to Speaker Johnson and Leader Jeffries, urging them to bring the Momnibus to the floor for a vote. 225 Members of Congress – across the House and Senate – have already gotten behind the Momnibus, along with more than 200 of the country’s leading health and community organizations. His letter asks the leaders to get this commonsense, consensus bill to the President’s desk as soon as possible.
  • letter to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, calling on him to produce a follow-up report to the “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve Maternal Health.” This follow-up report will reexamine the maternal health crisis and recommit our public officials to action.
  • A new portal focused on maternal health grants. Gottheimer will roll out a new portal on his website, Gottheimer.House.Gov, filled with grant opportunities focused on maternal health, targeted towards counties, localities, hospitals, and community health organizations. 

Gottheimer has been focused on women’s health since he first entered office. Earlier this year, he launched the new Project Women’s Health Initiative, a multi-front legislative agenda, which includes the SEARCH Act on research into rare diseases and the Freedom to Decide Act on reproductive healthcare. 

Gottheimer was joined by Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Senator Gordon Johnson (LD-37), Assemblywoman Shama Haider (LD-37), Assemblywoman Ellen Park (LD-37), Bergen County Commissioner Mary Amoroso, Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) Northern Region President Mark Sparta, and HUMC Chief Medical Officer Lisa Tank.

Below: Gottheimer, Underwood advocate for federal action on maternal health.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Good morning. It’s wonderful to join you here today at Hackensack University Medical Center with my good friend and colleague, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, to discuss a topic that is near and dear to both of our hearts: maternal health.

Today, we’re advocating for federal action to address the maternal mortality crisis, one of the greatest public health challenges facing women from all walks of life across the United States.

I’m grateful that Lauren could join us all the way from Illinois today. It’s a huge honor for me, for Hackensack, and to our State. It’s fair to say that Lauren is an expert and leader in Congress on maternal health issues – as a nurse before she came to Congress, at HHS, a professor at Georgetown, and now as a policy maven on these issues. I couldn’t be luckier to have Lauren’s expertise and counsel, and to have her here today.

There’s no better place to have this event than Hackensack University Medical Center. Last year, Hackensack became the first hospital in the nation to receive the Gold Seal of Approval for Advanced Perinatal Care. Hackensack goes above and beyond in caring for mothers and their infants, and I think we can take great lessons from all that they’ve done.

I also want to thank our state leaders for joining us today. Just last year, our state legislature, including Senator Johnson and Assemblywoman Haider, passed the New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center Act. They understand how critical this problem is and are working around the clock to solve it.

Last month was Women’s Health Month, a time to reflect on the major, persistent disparities in funding, research, and attention between women’s and men’s health concerns. In 2020, just under eleven percent of the NIH budget went to women’s health research. This gap has a real effect on health outcomes. Medical professionals may not have enough information to diagnose and treat women’s health concerns. Lifesaving treatments, including orphan drugs, are more expensive and harder to find. Across the country, we’ve heard time and time again, that women feel ignored and neglected by the medical system.

Since I came to Congress, I’ve been laser focused on elevating women’s health issues. Earlier this year, I launched my new Project Women’s Health Initiative, a multi-front legislative agenda, which includes my SEARCH Act on research into rare diseases and my Freedom to Decide Act on reproductive healthcare. I won’t stop working until every woman in Jersey can access quality healthcare that meets their needs. We’ve already taken major steps to protect reproductive freedom, keep IVF accessible, and call attention to rare and blood diseases impacting women. Now, we’re turning our attention to maternal mortality.

According to research released just last month from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, between 2018 and 2022, more than 600 women died of pregnancy-related causes each year. In 2022, twenty-two women died for every 100,000 births in the United States. The causes of death range from heart disease to stroke to suicide, often driven by postpartum depression.

Unfortunately, this is particularly a big problem in our state. 103 mothers passed away in New Jersey between 2018 and 2021 from pregnancy-related causes. We have worse outcomes than our neighbors in Pennsylvania and New York, and by some measures, fall below the national average. But, it’s an issue we’ve been working tirelessly to addresss. I want to recognize the incredible work of our First Lady, Tammy Murphy, who has championed this cause and done so much to support mothers across our state.

In January 2021, the First Lady unveiled the Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan, a blueprint that she formulated with experts, which aims to halve our state’s maternal mortality by 2026. Earlier this year, she helped launch our state’s new Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Authority, a first-of-its-kind facility in Trenton to both help moms give birth and conduct high-quality research on maternal health. Kudos to Tammy Murphy for all you’ve done for our state and our mothers.

It remains a significant challenge, especially for Black women who have been disproportionately affected. Across the country, they are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. In New Jersey, it’s far worse: Black mothers in New Jersey are seven times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than White mothers. Hispanic mothers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die. We have one of the worst racial disparities in the country, and that must change.

I’ll never forget the harrowing story of Serena Williams who almost passed away in 2018, while giving birth to her first daughter, Olympia. Doctors and nurses disregarded her pleas for help, and she almost bled out — right in the hospital. As Serena said herself, “Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me; I know those statistics would be different if the medical establishment listened to every Black woman’s experience.”

But, as my colleague Congresswoman Underwood has said many times, this issue does not discriminate. Mothers of every race, income level, education level, and locale are dying. Thousands of babies — in every state — will grow up without their mothers, robbed of the care and support they need to thrive.

Let’s be clear: Our country is falling behind relative to our peers, and there is more we can and must do. The Commonwealth Fund reports that the maternal mortality rate in the United States is far higher than any other high-income country: four times higher than the United Kingdom, seven times higher than Australia, and twenty-two times higher than Switzerland.

Study after study, and expert after expert has also said that this is a solvable problem. In 2022, the CDC said that four in five pregnancy- related deaths that occur in the U.S. are preventable. 

If you were to walk around the halls here at HUMC, the doctors and nurses would tell you: We can end this crisis. We just need the resources, research, and support to do it.

We are blessed to live in the greatest country in the world, but our health outcomes should reflect that fact. We cannot stand by as thousands of women pass away from preventable conditions and thousands of babies grow up, robbed of their moms. That’s why I’m proud to be taking steps with Congresswoman Underwood to help put a stop to our country’s maternal health crisis.

Drawing on her experiences as a nurse and a federal healthcare policy leader, Congresswoman Underwood introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act to tackle maternal mortality head-on. I’m honored to join Lauren in that effort, doing everything I can to help pass the Momnibus.

The Momnibus, comprised of thirteen separate bills, offers a comprehensive solution to our country’s complex, multifaceted maternal health crisis. First, the package makes critical investments to address social determinants of health — factors like access to quality employment, nutritious meals, and public safety. We know that healthcare isn’t just genetic: the Momnibus rightly acknowledges that the place you live, the food you eat, and the stress you experience play a major role in a mother and her baby’s health.

Second, the Momnibus strengthens the support system for mothers, providing funding for critical community-based organizations, expanding the maternal health workforce, and improving access to maternal mental health care. As it stands, we’re going to face a shortage of more than 78,000 nurses in 2025. We need all-hands-on-deck to address this crisis, and the Momnibus ensures that our medical institutions have the resources they need to staff up and support mothers.

Finally, the Momnibus package provides critical resources to fully investigate the causes of the maternal crisis and its potential drivers. The Momnibus will improve data collection around maternal health outcomes and address the effects of climate change on maternal and infant health. We need to understand the depth of the problem that we’re facing to fully solve it.

I’m excited to share three additional steps that I’m taking to make sure we act now and get the Momnibus across the finish line. With lives at stake, we can’t afford to waste a single hour.

This week, I’m sending a letter to Speaker Johnson and Leader Jeffries, urging them to bring the Momnibus up for a vote without delay. The Speaker could do it this week if we wanted to. 225 Members of Congress – across the House and Senate – have already gotten behind the Momnibus, along with more than 200 of our country’s leading health and community organizations. We need to get this commonsense, consensus bill to the President’s desk as soon as possible, so we can save lives.

We need a whole-of-government approach to addressing maternal health. That’s why I’m also calling on the United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy to produce a follow-up report on the maternal health crisis. Four years ago, Dr. Murthy’s predecessor published the “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve Maternal Health.” That report was critical to raising awareness about the crisis our country was facing and getting our federal stakeholders, namely HHS and the CDC, to act. This follow-up report will reexamine the maternal health crisis and recommit our public officials to action.

Finally, if you’ve ever heard me speak before, you’ve heard my favorite word: clawbacks. I’m committed to clawing back every cent possible of taxpayer funding to Jersey to invest in important issues like maternal health. In the coming days, I’ll be rolling out a portal on my website,Gottheimer.House.Gov, filled with grant opportunities focused on maternal health. We need to be aggressive in applying for these opportunities so that we can invest in local healthcare and ensure we have the resources we need to help mothers and their babies.

Maternal health isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s an American moms and dads issue that cuts to the very core of what our country stands for — and it’s a matter of life and death. As a member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, I will always do whatever I can to ensure that every mother has the support she needs to build a happy, healthy, and loving family.

Here in the greatest country in the world, I know that when we invest in maternal health, our best days will always be ahead of us.

Thank you. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Now I am proud to turn it over to my friend and a great leader, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood. 

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