CHICAGO – A series of initiatives championed by state Representative Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, to improve the state’s health care system and begin the process of addressing the growing maternal and infant mortality crisis, were approved by the Illinois General Assembly.
“During my more than three decades in the Illinois General Assembly, we have accomplished significant change to help disadvantaged Illinoisans obtain needed health care,” said Flowers, chairwoman of the House Health Care Availability and Access Committee. Flowers thanked Reps. LaToya Greenwood, Rita Mayfield, Anne Stava-Murray and Celina Villanueva for being lead sponsors of the legislation. “This year, my legislative package will finally make the maternal and infant mortality a priority and result in more attention to this terrible public health crisis.”
Flowers cited a New York Times statistics that black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery.
“In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies,” added Flowers.
“A black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education. And this tragedy of black infant mortality is intimately intertwined with another tragedy: a crisis of death and near death in black mothers themselves. The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago,” said Flowers.
The following legislative initiatives were passed by Flowers and now await Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s consideration:
• House Bill 1, which creates the Task Force on Infant and Maternal Mortality Among African Americans Act. The task force will: review research and data on causes and possible actions to reduce deaths and will require that information be produced in a report annually to the General Assembly. Senator Jackie Collins was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 2, which ensures that women’s rights are respected by empowering them to choose what type of treatment they prefer when giving birth. Senator Jackie Collins was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 3, which will require Illinois hospitals to report each instance of pre-term birth and infant mortality within their annual reporting period. This report will include the racial and ethnic information of the infants and the mothers and each instance of maternal mortality. Senator Jackie Collins was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 5, which ensures access to substance use services for pregnant and post-partum women, and among other things, requires hospitals, healthcare facilities, and birth centers to adopt a variety of protocols and quality improvement initiatives. Senator Jackie Collins was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 2438, which requires accident and health insurers to cover mental health conditions that occur during pregnancy or during the postpartum period, such as postpartum depression. Senator Jackie Collins was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 2895, will ensure medical staff for hospital wings with obstetric beds conduct annual education regarding the care of pregnant and postpartum women. Under the legislation, the Department of Public Health (DPH) will be required to develop an initiative on how to improve birth quality using proven models which improve birth equity, as well as how to provide hospitals with emergency rooms best practices for early identification of pregnant and postpartum women. Senator Elgie Sims was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 2896, which creates a Diversity in Health Care Professions Task Force with the goal of diversifying the health care workforce by equipping students with the necessary skills and support systems for careers in health care. Senator Elgie Sims was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 2897, which provides that the Department of Public Health (DPH) shall have to apply for all federal funding opportunities to support maternal mental health. Senator Jackie Collins was chief Senate sponsor.
• House Bill 3511, which directs the Department of Public Health to develop educational materials for health care professionals and patients about maternal mental health conditions. These materials must be distributed to employees regularly assigned to work with pregnant or postpartum women in birthing hospitals and incorporated into employee training no later than January 1, 2021. Senator Chris Belt was chief Senate sponsor.
“I encourage Governor Pritzker to sign these bills quickly and hope to work with him to ensure they’re implemented effectively,” Flowers said.