Innovation and Collaboration to Support Birth Equity: Working to Improve Black Maternal Health

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Black mothers face the highest rates of maternal mortality of any racial or ethnic group. The maternal mortality rate for Black mothers was 26.4 per 100,000 live births in between 2011-2013, higher than the California average of 7.3 per 100,000 in that same time frame. Black mothers are also more likely to develop a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) and more likely to experience postpartum depression at rates more than double the national average.

These sobering statistics capture only a fraction of the disparities that many Black mothers face in health care today.

Efforts are underfoot in the state of California to tackle the issue from multiple angles. The California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative created a birth equity dashboard to track its hospital members’ maternal health outcomes by race and ethnicity, and in 2019, Governor Newsom signed the Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, which requires implicit bias training for perinatal health care providers in the state. Additionally, health care industry leaders are tackling the issue head-on, collaborating to utilize innovative practices and technologies to improve Black maternal health outcomes.

On this panel key leaders from the payer, provider, start up, and foundation communities discuss how organizations can work together to leverage innovation and collaboration to improve health outcomes for Black mothers in California.


Melissa Hanna, is co-founder and CEO of Mahmee, a comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care management platform that increases positive health outcomes for moms and babies. An activist-entrepreneur, Melissa’s modus operandi has always been to forge cross-industry collaborations and partnerships to solve big challenges, and she believes that equitable access to healthcare for women and children is a challenge we can all solve by working creatively together. She’s been featured in Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Black Enterprise, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, and much more.

DD Johnice is a serial entrepreneur and accomplished innovation executive who has guided clients in discovering, developing, and bringing to market new products, services and businesses. Having worked in healthcare, retail, marketing and communications, and professional services, DD has built her career pursuing solutions to challenging business and social problems. Previously, she led Community Health & Social Innovation at Kaiser Permanente.

Shruti Kothari leads Industry Initiatives for Blue Shield of California, focusing on industry alignment to scale health care transformation. Prior to BSC, Shruti led Strategic Engagement for Kaiser Permanente’s venture capital fund, and has worked as an early stage startup operator, healthcare system quality improvement leader, and a health educator and community mobilizer. Shruti is on the board for Family Caregiver Alliance, and an Advisor for the End Well Foundation. She is the founder of Women of Community which works to increase representation of Women of Color in healthcare leadership. You can follow Women of Community on Instagram and LinkedIn --

Dr. James L. Kyle is a native of Los Angeles, California. He is a graduate of UCLA School of Medicine, where he completed his MD and Internal Medicine residency. During his career he has served as a pastor, administrator, educator and an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps. He is the former Dean of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health and has occupied multiple leadership roles at the Charles R. Drew University in South Los Angeles. Dr. Kyle is also an ordained minister and pastors a church in Glendale California.

Kindra Montgomery-Block is a translator and a movement builder for people of color, building bridges with the traditionally white communities that influenced their well-being and livelihoods. Executive leader, movement builder, and unapologetically African-American activator who is the driving force behind philanthropy and coalitions that are part of the national Black empowerment conversation. She has received numerous awards from organizations like HUB Magazine, impact awards, Women of Color in Maternal Health, NAACP, American Association of Public Administrators, and the Greater Sacramento Urban League.