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Date Published: Thursday, June 29, 2023
Date Updated: Friday, June 30, 2023

WMCHealth Launches Center to Advance Women’s Health Equity

The mission of WMCHealth’s Center for Women’s Health Equity is to help reduce the disparities of health among women in our region

news item

VALHALLA, N.Y. (June 29, 2023) –– Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) today announced the launch of its Center for Women’s Health Equity, a new care program that will address the social, economic, cultural and racial determinants of health that can result in increased maternal morbidity and mortality among women across the Hudson Valley. Supported by a $750,000 New York State grant secured by New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and with the support of New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the members of the New York State Legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul, the WMCHealth Center for Women’s Health Equity has locations at Westchester Medical Center in Westchester County and another at HealthAlliance Hospital in Ulster County.

The Center for Women’s Health Equity will be the first program of its kind based in New York State’s Hudson Valley region, and will have an initial aim of reducing the leading causes of death among pregnant women by integrating specialists in maternal-fetal medicine, whose expertise is the care of complex medical problems affecting pregnant women, with its heart and vascular program clinicians to take a more proactive and holistic view of elevated risk factors among women, particularly those of color.

“WMCHealth’s vital mission is to provide the highest-quality care for all residents of the Hudson Valley, and we expect the Center for Women’s Health Equity to help improve outcomes for the women WMCHealth serves,” said Michael D. Israel, President and CEO, WMCHealth.“We expect the Center for Women’s Health Equity to be a model for other health networks across the country to follow, and would like to thank our New York State representatives for having the foresight to make such a significant investment in this important program.”

“We are addressing one of the greatest challenges that exists in public health today – the socioeconomic and racial determinants of health that results in the premature death of women of color across the Hudson Valley” said Sean Tedjarati, MD, MPH, MBA, Director of Obstetrics/Gynecology at Westchester Medical Center. “By bringing together and integrating all of these necessary services, we aim to eliminate clinical silos and bridge the gaps that will help empower patients and community partners while improving care and saving lives.”

A New York State Health Emergency
Addressing maternal mortality is an urgent health risk particularly in the United States, where in 2021 the mortality rate was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births*, more than 10 times the estimated rates of some other high-income countries**, driven largely by significant disparities in health outcomes experienced by minority women. The situation is especially dire in New York State, where Black, non-Hispanic women are up to five times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than White non-Hispanic women.

Pregnant African American and Latina women are up to four times more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to die of cardiovascular complications such as heart disease, embolism, and hemorrhage during pregnancy. Other leading causes of morbidity and mortality include mental health disorders and diabetes, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Notably, 78 percent of these deaths were preventable and 100 percent of the deaths caused by hemorrhage, mental health conditions, and cardiomyopathy were preventable, according to the same report by the New York State Department of Health. Many of these complications occur as a result of escalating rates of Cesarean section deliveries.

Addressing Equity Gaps and Improving Outcomes
To ensure these resources are available to all women, particularly those at the highest risk, WMCHealth’s Center for Women’s Health Equity will be staffed with multilingual social workers trained in cultural sensitivities who will help women navigate care pathways across WMCHealth and engage with community-based partners for enhanced care. This collaborative approach will result in regular case reviews to determine individualized treatment plans to prevent more complex, and costly, complications down the line.

The Center for Women’s Health Equity’s comprehensive approach will also include:

  • Focusing on reducing the cesarean delivery rates and associated complications along with other cardiovascular complications in the in-patient settings.
  • Leveraging WMCHealth’s extensive behavioral health network to increase and enhance access to mental health and substance use disorder services. The hospitals in Valhalla and Kingston are home to well-established neonatal abstinence support programs for babies born to women suffering from opiate addiction.
  • Providing prenatal care services that efficiently integrate comprehensive pregnancy and childbirth education into routine visits and establish a post-partum program that will follow patients for a year with close communication and integration with primary care providers.
  • Evaluating the needs and resources to improve access to prevention and treatment programs in gynecologic and breast cancer care in the region.

“Providing comprehensive maternal care is at the heart of our mission at HealthAlliance Hospital and at WMCHealth,” said Ashanda Saint Jean, MD, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston. “I have dedicated my career to focus on the delivery of quality, evidence-based care to the underrepresented, to garner the best health care outcomes, despite disparities that exist in maternal health. This Center will help realize our goals to create comprehensive women’s health services that prioritize health equity and access, with community outreach and focus on the development of community partnerships that will have a lasting imprint on the Hudson Valley.”

In the coming year, the WMCHealth Center for Women’s Health Equity will expand to include preventative oncological support to address increased risk of breast and gynecological cancers with an emphasis on cervical cancer, which still imposes a high burden on Black and Hispanic populations.

The program is accessible today in Westchester County at 19 Bradhurst Avenue in Hawthorne or by calling 914.493.2250 and in Ulster County at 373 Broadway Avenue in Kingston or by calling 845.303.1132. For additional information, visit WMCHealth.org/Womens-Health-Equity.

Additional Comments

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins: “I’m proud to support WMCHealth's Center for Women's Health Equity in its mission to reduce health disparities among women in our region. It is crucial that we address the socioeconomic and racial impacts on healthcare that contribute disproportionately to the premature deaths of pregnant women of color. This Center will have a major impact on women’s healthcare disparities in the Hudson Valley as it works to improve outcomes, save lives, and create a more equitable healthcare system. With the $750,000 State grant, New York is taking a significant step towards closing these gaps, underscoring our unwavering commitment to high quality healthcare for all women.”

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, Chair of the NYS Assembly Committee on Health: “As the new Health Chair of the New York State Assembly one of my top priorities is addressing maternal mortality.  I commend Westchester Medical Center on the launch of its new Center for Women’s Health Equity, and am very pleased to have secured the initial funding. Implementing innovative programs which directly address the issues expectant mothers face, including socio-economic determinants, is critical to improving maternal birth and overall health outcomes. I look forward to the future success of the new Center for Women’s Health and appreciate its important focus on this critical public health emergency. Women shouldn’t have to worry about dying when they get pregnant.”

Westchester County Executive George Latimer: “This is another example of partnerships in Westchester County resulting in progress for the people we serve. I commend the medical center for their efforts to improve the outcomes for women in this County when it is needed most - and look forward to our continued work together to make Westchester a healthier place for us all.”

Chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators Vedat Gashi: “The establishment of the Center for Women’s Health Equity represents a bold and necessary step towards securing a healthier future for all women in the Hudson Valley region. With this Center, we not only commit to reducing maternal mortality, but also to dismantling the disparities in healthcare that disproportionately impact women of color.”

About Westchester Medical Center Health Network
The Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is a 1,700-bed healthcare system headquartered in Valhalla, New York, with nine hospitals on seven campuses spanning 6,200 square miles of the Hudson Valley. WMCHealth employs more than 13,000 people and has nearly 3,000 attending physicians. The Network has Level I (adult and pediatric), Level II and Level III trauma centers, the region’s only acute care children’s hospital, an academic medical center, several community hospitals, dozens of specialized institutes and centers, Comprehensive and Primary Stroke Centers, skilled nursing, assisted living facilities, home-care services and one of the largest mental health systems in New York State. Today, WMCHealth is the pre-eminent provider of integrated health care in the Hudson Valley. For more information about WMCHealth, visit WMCHealth.org or follow WMCHealth on Facebook.com/WMCHealth or Instagram.com/WMCHealth.