As state lawmakers in Harrisburg work to combat Pennsylvania’s maternal mortality crisis, an advocacy organization is helping doulas with the cost of obtaining a state certification, a move they hope will bring more people into the field and improve maternal health outcomes across the commonwealth.
Doulas, who are non-medical, trained professionals who provide emotional, informational, and physical support before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth, have been praised by medical professionals and reproductive health advocates who say that expanding access to doula care could improve maternal health outcomes, and lower Pennsylvania’s maternal mortality rate.
The commonwealth currently has a pregnancy-associated mortality ratio (PAMR) of 82 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to a 2022 report from the Pennsylvania Maternal Mortality Review Committee. Non-Hispanic Blacks had the highest PAMR of 163 deaths per 100,000 live births.
To become a doula in Pennsylvania, individuals must have a Certified Perinatal Doula license, which is administered by the state certification board, and requires applicants to pay a $50 fee for the certification.
The Pennsylvania Doula Commission (PADC), a nonprofit organization working to promote equitable access to doula services through workforce development initiatives, is offering a scholarship to cover the costs of the state certification needed to become a licensed doula.
“We have it in our budget that we can really cover several hundreds doulas in their application to see to it that it’s a bit easier, and we’re removing barriers to getting that Certified Perinatal Doula credential,” Gerria Coffee, president of the PADC, said.
Studies have found that women who are supported by doulas throughout their pregnancy are less likely to require a cesarean birth or use pain medication, and have a shorter labor, according to the National Health Law Program.
In an effort to expand access to doula care in Pennsylvania, state Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, and Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, have companion bills before their respective chambers that, if passed, would extend Medicaid coverage to doula services in Pennsylvania.
Coffee said that doulas who obtain the state certification can receive Medicaid reimbursement.
“We have to continue to discuss the importance of doulas really coming in and applying for that Certified Perinatal Doula credential,” Coffee told the Capital-Star. “One of the things that we’ve learned is that we need to prove network availability to be able to say that we can have a state plan amendment, which would then create this official lane where doulas can be reimbursed more or less. And so, with that, we need more doulas to show that they’re buying in. By coming in and getting this credential, we can show up in numbers.”
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