Rockford – Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14) convened a roundtable on Black maternal health today, in order to explore local and state approaches to addressing maternal health in the African American community. Hosted by SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford, the event brought together health care and patient advocacy stakeholders from the local community and state.

“No mother should have to lose her life – no child should have to lose their parent – because of a pregnancy complication that we could have prevented,” said Congresswoman Bustos. “National studies have shown that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and in Illinois, Black women are six times more likely to die. I thank Congresswoman Lauren Underwood for joining me today to take this next step toward addressing this issue critical to our community. This problem lies right here in our own backyard and only by working together will we be able to make significant strides in improving Black maternal health.”

“Each year, 700 women die from pregnancy-related causes, the majority of them preventable. And for each of these deaths, there are 70 women who nearly die,” said Congresswoman Underwood. “I co-founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus with Congresswoman Alma Adams with the simple and we believe surmountable, goals of elevating the Black maternal health crisis within Congress and advancing policy solutions that will improve maternal health outcomes and end disparities. Through the Caucus, we honor the legacy of women we have lost and all the Black women who have been ignored when they’ve told doctors about their pain, who have been dismissed when they’ve raised concerns, who have suffered because of inaction.”

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, from 2008-2016, an average of 73 Illinois women died within a year of birth due to pregnancy-associated complications, annually. Winnebago County has one of the worst preterm birth rates in the state at 11.2 percent.

The group, which included Evonda Thomas-Smith, the Assistant Director of Illinois Department of Public Health, and representatives of SwedishAmerican, the Winnebago County Health Department, Crusader Community Health and Mercyhealth, explored the social determinants of health – social factors that contribute to individuals’ long-term health. This can include regular access to a doctor, healthy foods, clean water or prenatal care.

Congresswoman Bustos is a member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus and has also introduced the Social Determinants Accelerator Act, which would provide up to $25 million in grants to local communities to fight social factors that lead to health problems, including high maternal mortality rates.

Congresswoman Underwood co-chairs the Black Maternal Health Caucus with Congresswoman Alma Adams, which is dedicated to elevating the Black maternal health crisis in Congress and advancing policy solutions to improve maternal health.