Scholarships increase access to doula care in Kansas

Davinah Simmons MS, CLE is Associate Director, Maternal and Child Health Strategy and Hannah Corbett is Associate Director of Maternity Provider Partnerships Design with UnitedHealthcare Community & State. 

In Kansas, 90% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.1 Kansas also reports a higher rate of maternal deaths compared to the national rate.2

Doula care can make a difference by providing non-clinical support before, during and after labor. Doulas have been shown to help people overcome barriers related to social drivers of health that can impact maternal and child health outcomes.3

UnitedHealthcare Community & State is taking a regional approach to increase access to doula care for Medicaid members by collaborating with The Doula Network to provide comprehensive doula support in five states — Texas, Washington, Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky — through a one-year pilot program.

To further support the growth of the doula workforce and ensure access to doula care for Medicaid members, UnitedHealthcare Community & State has invested in two organizations, Birthing Advocacy Doula Training (BADT) and Cornerstone Doula Training. The $198,000 total investment will create scholarships for doulas in all five states where the pilot program is active, including 20 scholarships for doulas in Kansas. These capacity-building scholarships are designed to increase access to holistic support for improved birth outcomes on a larger scale — and to the communities that need it the most.

These scholarships are also designed to alleviate financial barriers to enable doulas to become registered Medicaid providers. Trainings include first-time certification and continuing education. The trainings are typically self-paced and cover a range of topics that are relevant to the needs and experiences of Medicaid populations. In addition to full-spectrum doula training, course components include support for queer and transgender people and people with a disability. Other courses examine harm reduction and doulas’ roles in eliminating stigma associated with substance abuse disorder.

The purpose of these courses is to highlight the complex needs of the Medicaid population while centering the humanity of each individual receiving doula care. Doulas who complete these trainings also gain a greater understanding of the systems that influence health needs and outcomes.

In Kansas, maternal health disparities for people of color are stark: Kansas has the highest rate of maternal mortality for Black parents in the United States.4 Doulas can play a critical role in addressing these disparities by providing culturally-congruent care and support. Many doulas of color cite supporting birthing families of shared backgrounds and reducing inequities in their own communities as motivation for entering the profession.5 Scholarships for certification can reduce financial barriers and contribute to building a more robust, diverse doula workforce equipped to serve communities of color.

In addition to covering the financial costs of these trainings, UnitedHealthcare Community & State is also working with local doula organizations and other non-profits focused on perinatal and maternal health. This initiative aims to improve birth outcomes, access to holistic support, and culturally-congruent care for families in Kansas.

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