Addressing maternal disparities and promoting birth equity

The concept of birth equity in health care includes advocating for fair treatment during pregnancy and childbirth for all individuals, no matter their socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity or gender identification. UW Health is proud to stand at the forefront of this movement, and recent partnerships in the northern Illinois area work to further ensure every individual a safe and respectful childbirth experience.

“Every patient who comes in our doors should be able to say they were honored and cared for,” said Jennifer Callison, director, Women and Children’s Services, UW Health in northern Illinois. “We do our work here every day, but for some, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s their birth story, and they are deserving of a safe and equitable delivery.”

In Fall 2021, the UW Health SwedishAmerican Women and Children’s Hospital joined forces with the Illinois Perinatal Quality Collaborative (ILPQC) to address maternal disparities and promote birth equity. This statewide quality improvement initiative offered key opportunities for our team to explore and implement, including:

  • Ensuring a universal Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) screening is taking place both prenatally and during hospital admission to connect patients with needed resources and services. Courtney Fisk, RN, and Michelle Strand, LSW, led the implementation at SwedishAmerican Hospital, working diligently to create a five-county resource mapping tool that allows staff the capability to easily assist patients. This tool has been a crucial piece in ensuring patients are receiving the assistance they need prior to discharge.
  • Reviewing hospital-level maternal health quality data by race, ethnicity and Medicaid status to identify disparities and opportunities for improvement. Each month, maternal quality data is reviewed to identify disparities and address opportunities for improvement.
  • Engaging patients and community members to provide input on quality improvement efforts. SwedishAmerican Hospital has a long-standing community presence. By working with key community members and building partnerships, we continue to engage with patients outside the hospital and clinical settings to bring birthing education out into the community.
  • Implementing a strategy for sharing care practices with patients and labor support persons. It is our goal that each patient receives standardized discharge education, is ensured communication access to their providers and are taught general postpartum safety.
  • Standardizing training for staff and providers to address implicit bias and promote active listening and respect in patient care. This includes watching mandatory documentaries that illustrate how some patients slip through the cracks.
  • Surveying patients before discharge to get feedback on their care. UW Health proudly excels in this area. In 2023, we led all hospitals in Illinois with the highest number of returned surveys.

The initiative led to many highlights in 2023, including the start of a community-wide Respectful Care Breakfast hosted by SwedishAmerican Hospital, as well as being recognized by the ILPQC with the 2023 Birth Equity Quality Improvement Excellence Award. The award signifies that UW Health SwedishAmerican Women and Children’s Hospital has submitted all required data, implemented all elements of the initiative, and met all the goals and objectives.

“We were very honored to receive the award, as it recognizes the commitment of many, including our nurses, physicians, social workers, leadership and community members,” Callison said. “Hopefully this is just the start, because we continue to set and reach new goals. We take this very seriously, because this is about honoring every patient and their individual journey.”

Courtney Fisk, MSN, RN, RNC-OB, C-EFM (left) and Michelle Strand, LSW, led the implementation of a resource map tool that ensures universal Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Screening is taking place both prenatally and during admission to the hospital to connect patients to needed resources and services.

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the Nursing Year in Review 2023 (pdf).