New NJ agency seeks to reduce number of deaths in childbirth

New Jersey is about to create a new state agency with a primary focus on reducing the number of deaths during and directly after childbirth.

Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that the New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Authority’s mission will be to reduce birth-related deaths in the state from birth to the age of 1 year old. The state’s infant mortality rate ranks 29th in the nation, according to data from the March of Dimes.

Making matters worse, infant mortality for Black mothers and other minorities in the state is two to three times higher than their white counterparts.

The new authority will also oversee the creation of the Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center in Trenton.

“This center will both drive policy and provide badly needed maternal health care services in Trenton, which currently does not have a birthing center and suffers from some of the widest racial disparities in maternal and infant deaths,” Murphy said during a ceremony in Trenton where he signed a law (S3864) to create the agency. “Today marks another important step in our ongoing efforts to protect the health of mothers and newborns.”

The new state budget allocated $2.2 million to the new authority, and it will get $50 million from the state’s Economic Development Authority.

“New Jersey has one of the widest racial disparities for both maternal and infant mortality rates. Trenton is among the cities with one of the highest rates of Black and Hispanic infant mortality, while also having the least access to quality healthcare,” state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, said. “There has to be a greater emphasis on the maternal health of women of color, and the establishment of this center is a significant step in increasing access to efficient and effective maternal health care.”

The new agency will be headed by a 15-member board that includes seven members of Murphy’s cabinet and eight members of the public he’ll appoint. It will also have 11 advisory members. The law mandates that four of the advisory members live in Trenton and the others live in areas of the state where Black and Hispanic infant mortality rates are higher than the state’s overall average.

The board members will get a $20,000-a-year salary and advisory members will get a $20,000 stipend.

“We all feel an instinctive need to protect our mothers and babies so that every family begins its life together in health, wellness, and joy,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy, who has made cutting the rates of infant mortality in the state a prime mission.