New York's ‘Mom governor’ Kathy Hochul adds doula care to Medicaid, expands paid prenatal leave

Gov. Kathy Hochul moved Monday to fund doula care and paid time off for expectant mothers before they give birth as she unveiled an $8 million plan for a new maternal health center in the Bronx.

The state’s self-proclaimed “first mom governor” framed the three-pronged announcement as part of a holistic state effort to lower infant and maternal mortality rates in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“Taking on the infant and maternal mortality crisis is personal for me,” Hochul said. “Being pregnant should not be a death sentence.”

Hochul said state-funded Medicaid would now pay for treatments by doulas, who give physical, emotional and other kinds of support to new moms before, during and after giving birth.

There would also be expanded efforts to support doulas and to link them up with expectant mothers who could benefit from their services, especially low-income and minority pregnant women.

“Doula services improve birth outcomes and provide families with emotional support during pregnancy, delivery, and following birth,” state Health Commissioner James McDonald said.

He added that the state hopes to vastly reduce racial and class disparities in childbirth health outcomes.

Hochul related a story of a young new mom who felt unwell after giving birth. She called her doctor who told her to come in in a few day’s time.

But a doula met her immediately and flagged a serious health issue.

The mom ended up being diagnosed with congestive heart failure and spending a week in the intensive care unit, a medical intervention that the governor credited with saving her life.

“That’s what I’m talking about, that level of care,” Hochul said.

The state Health Department already maintains a directory of doulas, which many new moms do not know about, and has granted $250,000 to help community-based organizations identify, train and support new doulas.

Hochul also announced Monday that she has made New York the first state to give expectant mothers 20 hours of additional paid time off for prenatal care.

The newly enacted policy, designed to ensure prospective moms don’t have to choose between work and doctors appointments, will take effect on Jan. 1.

The announcements came as Hochul said the state would provide $8 million in capital funding to build a maternal health center at the Morris Heights Health Center on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx.

Hochul stressed the importance of the new efforts to improve maternal health outcomes in the Bronx, which has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the state.

A 2021 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the infant mortality rate nationally at 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, a figure that equates to 20,000 infants dying annually.

A separate 2022 report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found that in 2022 there were approximately 22 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in the U.S.

The figures are among the worst in wealthy developed nations, and studies say Black and Latino women and babies suffer far higher rates of mortality than whites.

Hochul was joined at the event by local elected officials, including Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, who said reducing barriers posed by income, education or lack of access to medical care could be a matter of life and death for Bronx moms.

“We are eliminating barriers that prevent our residents from receiving culturally sensitive, patient-centered care,” Gibson said. Care should be “free of bias and racism that has resulted in the preventable deaths of too many pregnant people.”