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VP Harris visits UCSF to support Black maternal health

Vice President Kamala Harris visited UCSF April 21 to draw attention to the critical need for addressing disparities nationwide in healthcare for Black people during pregnancy.

In an afternoon event at the UCSF Rutter Center, Harris met with leaders of EMBRACE, a nearly four-year-old clinical program that was developed to provide perinatal care for Black mothers, Black pregnant individuals, and their families from an intentional angle of racial consciousness.

Vice President Kamala Harris meets with patient Hope Williams, who is expecting her fourth child.

Her visit included four segments: a personal interaction with an EMBRACE participant during an ultrasound; a group meeting with the current EMBRACE cohort of six expecting or postpartum participants and their partners; a roundtable discussion with physicians, doulas, ​midwives, and other Black care providers to discuss the challenges and joys of their work; and a press conference with other public leaders.

Maternal mortality is not only a health care issue, Harris said: it is also a housing issue, a transportation issue, and an environmental issue.

“We are here today, to lift up the tremendous work that is being done by this group of extraordinary leaders,” she said. “Here at UCSF, at EMBRACE, you have helped build a model of culturally competent care. You include partners and family members in perinatal care…You have brought together extraordinary staff. In being a national model, this is lifting up exactly the design that is necessary to see [across] the planet outcomes that you all have been producing here.”

University of California President Michael Drake, MD, opened the public event, which included comments from Senator Dianne Feinstein; California Lieutenant Governor and UC Regent Eleni Kounalakis; San Francisco Mayor London Breed; EMBRACE Co-Director Andrea Jackson, MD; and an EMBRACE participant, Adrienne Gorrell, who introduced the Vice President. Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also attended, along with other dignitaries.

Inequities Throughout Pregnancy and Postpartum Spectrum

For Black women, pregnancy and postnatal care are widely linked to inequities in access, outcomes and patient experiences, across all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. While approximately 700 women die each year in the United States due to pregnancy or delivery complications – the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country – Black women bear a disproportionate share of those deaths. They are 3 to 5 times more likely to die during or after pregnancy than white women nationwide, are more likely to suffer from disorders like postpartum depression without clinical intervention, and are subject to more discrimination within the medical field.

The Harris visit brought visibility to those stark inequities by showcasing EMBRACE for the enhanced care and support it provides. With a commitment to a pregnancy and postnatal experience grounded in dignity and respect, EMBRACE engages participants from the 12th week of gestation and continues to support them through the infant’s first year of life. EMBRACE has reached 45 families since it was founded in August 2018.

“Our program is (about) more than just surviving, it’s about thriving,” said Dr. Jackson, a UCSF obstetrician and gynecologist who co-founded EMBRACE. “We celebrate life, we celebrate family, we celebrate joy, Black joy…So when you think to yourself what is their secret sauce, why does EMBRACE work? It’s us.”


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