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Reynolds-Jackson, Speight & Verrelli Introduce Bill to Establish NJ Maternal and Infant Health Authority

Authority Would Operate Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center in Trenton

(TRENTON) – Seeking to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates in New Jersey and help address implicit biases that are responsible for racial disparities in health care, Assembly Democrats Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Shanique Speight and Anthony Verrelli introduce a measure establishing the New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Authority, which would operate the first-of-its-kind New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center in Trenton. The bill (A5472) was introduced last week.

New Jersey continues to rank among the worst in the nation with a maternal death rate of 24.1 per 100,000 births from 2018 to 2020. The State currently ranks 36th in the nation for maternal deaths and has one of the widest racial disparities for both maternal and infant mortality.

“New Jersey’s Black and Brown communities are in a maternal and infant mortality crisis. It is unacceptable that persisting racial disparities continue to plague cities across New Jersey, including our State capital,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “We must do more for equity in health care, dismantle structural barriers and ensure we are equipping our residents with the high-quality services they need to thrive. A Maternal and Infant Health Authority will build on our work to make New Jersey the safest place to start and raise a family by directly supporting research, development and innovation that will improve outcomes for new mothers and their babies.”

The bill would create the New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Authority within the Department of Treasury. The authority would be responsible for coordinating all efforts and strategies to reduce maternal mortality, morbidity, and racial and ethnic disparities in New Jersey.

“It is our responsibility to make sure all expecting mothers in the State have the support they need to bring a healthy child into the world. Establishing the New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Authority will allow us to carry out needed research to improve access to maternal and infant health care,” said Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex). “This measure will enable us to address the clear racial disparities that for too long have prevented women of color from receiving maternal health services. All New Jersey families deserve a healthy start.”

The authority would operate the Trenton-based New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center, and would collaborate with other State departments and agencies to advance maternal and infant health care throughout the State. It would also lead the State’s coordination, promotion, and implementation of education, policymaking, research, innovation, perinatal workforce development and more, with a particular focus on eliminating racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes.

“The maternal and infant mortality crisis has impacted communities across New Jersey and our residents deserve better. In Trenton, our capital city, only 47 percent of expectant moms received prenatal care in their first trimester during 2020,” said Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “These are critical services that keep pregnant women and their babies safe by giving doctors the opportunity to prevent, identify and address health problems. Establishing a Maternal and Infant Health Authority will give us greater access to data to inform our response to this crisis and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes.”

Under the bill, the authority shall be governed by a board of 15 members including:

  • five public members appointed by the Governor;
  • one member appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Mayor of Trenton;
  • one member appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Senate President;
  • one member appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Speaker of the General Assembly;
  • The Commissioner of Health;
  • The CEO of the NJ Economic Development Authority;
  • The Commissioner of Human Services;
  • The Commissioner of Banking and Insurance;
  • The Commissioner of Children and Families;
  • The Secretary of Higher Education; and
  • The Commissioner of Labor.

The board would be required to coordinate with a community advisory committee, which would be made up of four Trenton residents who have first-hand experience receiving perinatal services in the city or are community stakeholders.  Remaining members of the committee would be residents of municipalities in different geographic regions of the State with the highest rates of Black and Hispanic infant mortality.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Health Committee.