Providing Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Health Care Services in
Maternal Health Care Can Help to Reduce Disparities

Posted on March 18, 2021 by RADM Felicia Collins

Each year in the U.S., approximately 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications and more than 25,000 women suffer unintended outcomes of labor and delivery that can result in significant short- or long-term consequences to their health. Black women in the U.S. are three to four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth. American Indian/Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die. More women of color than white women report feeling mistreated, ignored, or dismissed by their maternal health providers.

Simone Landrum, a Black woman in New Orleans, Louisiana, is one of the faces of this crucial public health issue. During pregnancy, she complained repeatedly to her physician about headaches, sensitivity to light, swelling, and fatigue. Her physician told her to calm down and take Tylenol. At 34 weeks, she suffered a placental abruption due to high blood pressure, and her stillborn baby was delivered via C-section. Her story, as reported by the New York Times , sheds light on the sharp contrast between pregnancy as a source of new life and also a possible cause of death for so many Black women.

The reasons for Simone’s – and for many women of color – tragic pregnancy and childbirth experiences are complex and deeply rooted in the harmful effects of social determinants of health, chronic stress, and poor quality of care. What role can maternal health providers play in preventing maternal mortality and morbidity? One vital strategy is to improve quality of care by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) – in other words, understanding, respecting, and responding to a patient’s experiences, values, and beliefs.

In December 2020, HHS released the Action Plan to Improve Maternal Health in America and the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve Maternal Health, that sets an ambitious goal of reducing the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2025.

To help lead the nation toward meeting the Action Plan’s goal, I am pleased to announce that the HHS Office of Minority Health has launched an e-learning program that builds maternal healthcare providers’ knowledge and skills related to cultural competency and cultural humility. This free e-learning program – Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Maternal Health Care – supports the Action Plan’s call to healthcare providers to deliver services that respect and respond to patients’ culture and language preferences, to bring about positive health outcomes for diverse populations.

Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Maternal Health Care is offered at no cost and accredited for two continuing education hours for physicians, physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and certified midwives. The program offers case studies, self-reflection questions, and a Resource Library.

We must ensure that maternal healthcare providers are equipped to deliver respectful, compassionate, high quality care. It is a matter of life and death. If you are a maternal health care provider, the change starts with you. Make a commitment today to complete this Maternal Health Care program and share this new resource with your colleagues.