Northwell aims to reduce severe health risks in Black women

In an effort to drive down severe health risks among Black women, Northwell Health has named Dr. Dawnette Lewis as the director of its Center for Maternal Health.

When it comes to the world’s industrialized nations, the United States ranks among the highest with regards to the maternal mortality rate, according to published reports. And in the United States, Black women are three times more likely than whites to die from pregnancy-related causes.

But 84% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, according to the U.S. Centers Disease Control and Prevention. And the Center for Maternal Health, which was launched in April as part of the Katz Institute for Women’s Health, aims to reduce the maternal mortality rate.

“The risks Black women face during and after pregnancy and childbirth are a shameful illustration of the disparities that continue to diminish the well-being of our nation,” Michael Dowling, Northwell Health’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

“Dr. Lewis has long been a leader in the effort to eliminate the inequities that produce these deplorable risks,” he added. “We are confident that she will lead the center to success as we provide the resources and do the work to ensure that Black women and their babies get the care and attention they need to not just survive but thrive.”

Lewis has practiced for more than 20 years in maternal-fetal medicine, a subspecialty of obstetrics and gynecology focused on managing complications in high-risk pregnancy. She is associate director of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwell’s North Shore University Hospital, where she is also associate director of patient quality and safety. She is the associate program director of the maternal-fetal medicine fellowship at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

Lewis is also physician lead for the New York State Birth Equity Improvement Project, an effort run by the New York State Department of Health that supports hospitals in providing the safest and most effective and equitable care for pregnant, birthing and postpartum people and their babies.

As the center’s director, Lewis will oversee all aspects of the health system’s maternal health program, which takes a 360-degree approach to improving outcomes for mothers and babies.

The center focuses on the delivery of care and the health-impacting factors in the community in order to reduce the incidence and severity of health conditions that can occur from pre-conception through the first year after delivery. Its programs include the Maternal Outcomes Measures (MOMs) Collaborative, which disseminates information on best practices to clinicians inside and out of the health system, and MOMs Navigation, which provides support to high-risk women between prenatal appointments or in the postpartum period at home. The center leverages high-tech solutions, such as artificial intelligence-driven tools, and high-touch approaches, such as collaborations with community provider organizations in medically underserved areas.

“Supporting birthing people before, during and after pregnancy is one of the highest responsibilities a society has, and Northwell Health has made a commitment to decrease the risks that have unfairly burdened Black birthing people and their babies,” Lewis said in a statement. “I’m proud to help guide the health system in keeping that commitment and ensuring that all women are given the tools they need to stay safe while bringing life into the world.”