Cephas testifies during City Council public hearing, calls for action to save mothers’ lives

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 18 – State Rep. Morgan Cephas, an advocate for improving maternal mortality rates across Pennsylvania, testified during a public hearing Tuesday on maternal mortality, drawing attention to the disproportionate number of deaths of women of color during and after childbirth and calling for continued action at the local and state levels to combat the issue. The hearing was held by the Public Health and Human Services Committee of Philadelphia City Council – bringing together over 15 testifiers and 50 attendees to speak on the issue of maternal mortality rates among African American women in Philadelphia.

“This great nation of the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in developed nations, higher than some underdeveloped countries,” Cephas said during the hearing. “Maternal mortality disproportionately affects black women at three times the rate of white women, regardless of education level and socioeconomic status. It is time to address the core factors head-on including implicit bias, mental health, substance use disorder and access to care.”

Cephas, who is chairwoman of the PLBC’s Subcommittee on Women and Girls of Color and co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus, shared the story of a young woman from her district, La’Shana Gilmore, who left behind two young children when she died after delivering her baby daughter this summer.

Edward Gilmore gave tear-jerking testimony about his daughter’s death, which occurred about a month after her 34th birthday at Lankenau Medical Center, just outside of Philadelphia. Gilmore, of North Carolina, said it was only after his daughter died that he learned of the disparities between women of color and white women in maternal health. He shared that his daughter was in excellent health and excited about her delivery when he traveled from his home to Philadelphia to be with her the day before her delivery and death.

Cephas said, “Parents like Mr. Gilmore should get to be proud grandparents who watch their children raise their own babies, not parents who are grieving the loss of their daughters while also trying to help their grandchildren navigate life without their mother.”

For that reason, she is working on legislation that would address rising maternal mortality rates in Pennsylvania.

Committee Chair Councilwoman Cindy Bass stated, “The testimony that was heard at the committee hearing was very informative and helpful, and I look forward to continuing discussions to commit further city resources and funding to this extremely important issue.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, the councilwoman shared her own experiences in childbirth of which she said, “left her fearful that she would not survive to raise her own child(ren).”

Bass, in conjunction with her colleagues on City Council, said that they look forward to continuing the conversation of maternal mortality in Philadelphia with the partnership of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s maternal care team to find possible solutions to the problems discussed at the hearing. Bass also looks forward to working with the hospitals within her district, who came to testify, to further provide resources.

“I look forward to continued efforts at all levels that address this daunting issue,” Cephas said. “I thank Councilwoman Cindy Bass and her colleagues in City Council for helping to bring this issue to the forefront.”

The committee also heard testimony from Dr. Aasta Mehta, policy consultant for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s division of Maternal, Child and Family Health; Dr. David Jaspan with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Einstein Healthcare Network; Dr. Nina Ahmad;  Mari-Carmen Farmer, midwife; Saleemah J. McNeil, MS, MFT, founder of the Oshun Family Center; and representatives from the Maternity Care Coalition, Pettaway Pursuit Foundation, Department of Obstetrics and Maternal Fetal Medicine at Temple University Hospital, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Family Practice and Counseling Network and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.