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Huston-Tillotson University wants to improve maternal health outcomes by training more doulas

A bunch of people stand on a stage holding a giant check beneath a sign that says "BOLDLY B.L.U.E."
Olivia Aldridge
BlueCross BlueShield of Texas presented Huston-Tillotson University leadership with a check Thursday to fund the school's new Boldly B.L.U.E. program.

Huston-Tillotson University is launching a program that will train doulas, midwives and lactation consultants in an effort to combat Texas’ high maternal mortality rates, especially among Black women.

The historically Black university announced the new partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas on Thursday. Known as Boldly B.L.U.E (birthing, learning, understanding and empowering), the program aims to bring more diverse and “culturally aligned” birth experts into the workforce.

Chevalier DeShay, senior director of network management for BCBSTX and a Huston-Tillotson alum, said she and her colleagues became interested in exploring this partnership after being repeatedly confronted with dismaying data about pregnancy-related deaths in Texas.

“[We had] heard one more troubling statistic about health outcomes for Texas moms and babies — especially those of color,” DeShay said.

In 2022, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and Department of State Health Services released their most recent joint biennial report, which looked at data from 2019. It determined that at least 52 Texas women had died due to pregnancy-related causes that year. Ninety percent of these deaths were thought to be preventable. Furthermore, the number of Black women who experienced severe maternal morbidities — or health issues that come as a result of giving birth — sharply increased between 2018 and 2020, according to provisional data.

As one solution for these outcomes, members of the committee lobbied for the state’s Legislature to extend Medicaid coverage from two months to a full year after childbirth; the measure passed. But the report laid out additional improvements needed to move the needle, including to engage Black communities in developing maternal health programs and to increase the capacity of the maternal health workforce. The new program at Huston-Tillotson aims to tackle both these goals.

“We're going to increase and diversify the maternal health workforce in Central Texas so that birthing people can more easily access culturally aligned, continuous care,” said Amanda Masino, the university’s chair of Natural Sciences.

The program’s first group of doulas-in-training is set to begin Oct. 15. Doulas are nonclinical professionals who provide emotional and physical support during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. They are associated with better health outcomes during childbirth, according to expert organizations including March of Dimes. Following a bill passed by the state Legislature this year, doulas can now qualify to serve as case management providers for children and pregnant women under Texas Medicaid.

The university will partner with existing community organizations including Black Mamas ATX and Healing Hands Community Doula Project during the training. Masino said the goal was to learn from organizations like these and further enhance their work in the community.

“I knew … we could increase the number of doulas who go via those avenues,” Masino said. “We could add components that only we could do to make that a more robust training.”

The doulas-in-training will also learn about community health work and take business workshops. Lessons from the first year of the doula program will also inform curriculum to two new programs that will launch at the university next fall — one for lay midwives and another for lactation consultants.

These students will also have the opportunity to contribute to a research network formed by Huston-Tillotson faculty and community partners to investigate maternal health gaps and disparities.

People interested in joining the no-cost program can learn more here.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Texas Medicaid covers doula services. That is inaccurate; rather, doulas can qualify to serve as case management providers for pregnant women under Texas Medicaid.

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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