U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Awards $439k Grant to SUNY Downstate to Support Black Maternal Health Intervention Study In Central Brooklyn

By Office of Communications & Marketing | Nov 29, 2022

Grant highlights the partnership among Downstate’s School of Public Health and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health

BROOKLYN, NY— The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded SUNY Downstate School of Public Health, Downstate’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health (AAIUH) a $439K grant for Black maternal health research, aimed at addressing the growing maternal mortality rate, specifically in Central Brooklyn. The grant will fund the NIH R21 Intervention Study, a joint project between Downstate and AAIUH, and test the efficacy of an intervention prototype called We Care About Brooklyn (WeCAB).

In New York City, there is a pronounced Black-white maternal mortality gap. On average, the maternal mortality rate is 9.4 times higher for Black compared to White mothers.

Central Brooklyn is the epicenter of the maternal health crisis in New York City. Women with the highest rates of severe maternal morbidity (SMM), considered “near misses” to maternal death, are Black immigrants concentrated in Central Brooklyn. This situation reflects a history of systemic racism and neglect. In addition, women who lack adequate care throughout pregnancy and postpartum have a higher risk of severe maternal adverse events and death.

“This grant allows us to address the current maternal health crisis in our community where—in addition to the challenges of being underserved—our patients may also face other barriers including race, socio-economic status, and immigration status,” said SUNY Downstate president Wayne J. Riley, M.D. “This generous grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services emphasizes the importance of collaboration on a community-wide approach to sustainable maternal health.”

The two-year NIH R21 study will test the preliminary efficacy of a novel intervention prototype—We Care About Brooklyn—which uses a combination of community health workers, digital health screenings, and an integrated referral system to better address patients’ needs. WeCAB integrates the principles of an evidence-based community health worker model and leverages a digital social determinant of health screening and a close-loop referral system.

The NIH R21 Intervention study aims to integrate WeCAB into routine maternal care so systemic issues can be addressed appropriately through key informant interviews and post-intervention surveys.

According to the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, the U.S. maternal mortality rate continues to increase, with rates for Black women nearly three times higher than for white women.

Through WeCAB, researchers hope to mitigate systemic racism by comprehensively addressing unmet social determinants of health needs such as food security, decent housing, and daycare to improve healthcare utilization and engagement in the care of pregnant persons throughout pregnancy and postpartum.

“Black maternal mortality is a national public health crisis, and it needs to be treated as such,” said the Downstate School of Public Health Community Engagement associate dean Aimee Afable, Ph.D., MPH. “With this research collaboration, we hope to address fragmented systems and unequal healthcare created by a history of systemic racism and neglect. Our vision is to provide patient-centered care to pregnant persons in the epicenter of the maternal health crisis in New York City. We look forward to making progress on this critical issue.”

The grant was written by the Downstate School of Public Health Community Engagement associate deanAimee Afable, Ph.D., MPH, Obstetrics and Gynecology Health Equity Division director Christina Pardo, M.D., MPH, FACOG, and Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health chief executive officer Marilyn A. Fraser, M.D. Drs. Afable and Pardo will lead the study.

Co-Investigators include Obstetrics and Gynecology Department Chair Camille A. Clare, MD, MPH, CPE, FACOG; School of Public Health Biostatistics assistant professor Rose Calixte, Ph.D., PStat and Health Policy & Management chair Thomas Mackie, Ph.D., MPH, School of Health Professions Medical Informatics chair Mohammad Faysel, Ph.D., and Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health Community Engagement and Research director Tenya Blackwell, DrPH.

About the Arthur Ashe Institute of Public Health
The Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health utilizes a community health empowerment and engagement model to promote health equity and social justice through strategic partnerships, innovative community-based health promotion, research programs, and a more diverse and inclusive workforce of health professionals.

About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care. It is a 342-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of New York City and Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital at Downstate (UHD) is Downstate’s teaching hospital, backed by an outstanding medical school’s expertise and world-class academic center research facilities. Over 800 physicians, representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate’s staff.

In addition to high-risk neonatal and infant services, pediatric nephrology, and dialysis (kidney diseases)—and offering the only kidney transplantation program in Brooklyn, among many other distinctive programs—Downstate also sponsors a major learning center for young children with developmental disorders and disabilities. In addition to UHD, Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, a College of Nursing, a School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter at @sunydownstate.