Governor Hochul: “For the first time in two decades, our infant mortality rates…actually went up. And that is so shocking. Mothers and babies are dying unnecessarily across the nation, and right here in New York. This can only be called a crisis. And as the first mom Governor, this is personal…And I'm committed to taking action to fix it.”
Hochul: “Every mother, every family deserves to have the joy and excitement associated with pregnancy and childbirth, not fear and trepidation as we bring these little people into the world. When all families have the support they need… we keep moms and babies alive, and our potential is limitless…We can do better. I know we can…So, as a mom, as your Governor, that is my commitment to all of you.”
Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled the third proposal of her 2024 State of the State: a comprehensive six-point plan to combat maternal and infant mortality in New York. Recent CDC statistics revealed an increase in infant mortality – for the first time in over two decades. To address this crisis, Governor Hochul will introduce new policies and legislation to expand access to high-quality prenatal care, reduce costs for mothers and families, fight postpartum depression and support infants in the first months of their lives.
AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
What an exceptional day. I just had the best time going to the most joyful ward in any hospital. And that's the maternity ward, where I saw new moms. I saw a mom and dad of triplets, triplet boys. Can you imagine triplet boys? I said, “Football, basketball? What are we playing here?” So, exciting.
And I just I'm delighted he back here. I've visited this hospital in the past and had a chance to work with extraordinary leadership here today, and I'm really grateful to be back. A couple weeks ago, though, the CDC released data that shook me to my core. For the first time in two decades, our infant mortality rates, not going down, but actually went up.
And that is so shocking. Mothers and babies are dying unnecessarily across the nation, and right here in New York. This can only be called a crisis. And as the first mom Governor, this is personal. This is personal. I've been there. And I'm committed to taking action to fix it. So today we're launching a six-point plan to allow more moms and babies to simply stay alive and to thrive.
And I’ll acknowledge some leaders of our community who are here today. First of all, as I mentioned Wyckoff, having Ramon Rodriguez, who's been here about 11 years, and what a transformation he has made. They are so invested in this that they're building these incredible rooms where the entire family can come in and be participating in the delivery, giving that support that a mother needs at sometimes her weakest hour. And the whole family can be there. It's a beautiful concept. I want to thank you. I had a chance to see some of the rooms and meet some of the moms. And so, Ramon Rodriguez, thank you for leaving such an important imprint on this hospital.
And someone who's so important, we'll call her Daniel's mom. Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn. I want to thank her for telling her story in such a powerful way, one that really brought people to full attention. It's hard when you're in an elected office to share your stories, because you want to be private.
But sometimes you know that when you come forward, talk about what happened to you, perhaps you can spare others from going through what you have done. And I thank you for being a powerful leader and sharing your voice. Let's give a huge round of applause to Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.
Eleanor Juray, I want to thank her who’s the program director in Family, Community & Beyond. I want to thank her. You'll be hearing from her in a couple minutes. And also, the members of the New York City Council who have been acknowledged here today. Antonio Reynoso, again, our Borough President. We've done a lot of events together here. And all the service providers who've joined us here today.
I've had a few accomplishments in life, but being a mom certainly ranks right up there. The sense of pride you feel, watching a newborn ascend into toddlerhood and to school age years and high school and college and beyond. And I just had the greatest joy of seeing a little almost two-year-old grandbaby running around the governor's residence. Don't think that's happened a whole lot before.
But it's a time that should be filled with joy. It's something that families look forward to, many times they plan and say, finally we're going to have the chance to expand our family and expand our lives. And it doesn't happen by itself, though. You need support. You need care. You need professionals. Not just from family and friends, but from doctors and doulas and other health care professionals – midwives.
And, like I said, at Wyckoff Heights here, they go above and beyond. They have culturally tailored health care and support services for women, infants, and children, the kind – the likes of which we don't see many places. And because before, during, and after childbirth, women are also dying in our country from pregnancy related causes at higher rates than any other wealthy nation on this planet. Think about that. More women are dying before, during, and after childbirth in our country, the United States of America, the greatest country on earth. And we can't figure out how to keep our women and babies alive during childbirth. Got a problem here, don't we? Yes, we do.
We are now double the rate of our peer countries in terms of both infant mortality and maternal mortality. And it's not just a health care crisis. For them, it becomes a crisis for families. A caregiver, a father left to now raise a newborn baby when a mother is lost. The maternal mortality rate for millennial women, listen to this, is 300 – I'm sorry, 230 percent higher than it was for gen xers. 300 percent higher than it was for baby boomers, and that would have been me.
Staggering. I'm speechless. When you think about those numbers, what has happened? What has happened since the time that I was giving babies, having babies? What has happened in our society? And what's really hard to accept, too, is that it primarily hits Black and Brown families. They're the ones, statistics are showing, that those are the families most likely to be affected.
Black babies are nearly two and a half times more likely to die. A Black woman is three to four times more likely to die in childbirth. Now we pride ourselves as a country being so advanced. We solve problems. We're innovative. We have resources. It's shocking. It's nothing but shocking. And it demands a response from every level of government.
And no one knows better than our Assemblywoman, who will be telling her story in just a couple of minutes. She had a high-risk pregnancy, life-threatening complications, but didn't get the care she needed at the time. No woman in this country should fear getting pregnant because it might end up being her death sentence. But these days, many Black New Yorkers are reporting, “I'm not sure I want to take the risk.” Afraid to have a family because the outcomes could be so devastating.
That's tragic. That's tragic. For this to be the state of affairs, in this state, in the 21st century, it's just unbelievable. Here's what we're going to talk about today. We know that when women and children don't get the care they need, they suffer, their families suffer, our state suffers. And reversing the trends – and we've seen some positive numbers, we've seen some progress. Back in 2010, New York ranked 46th in the United States for maternal mortality.
Wasn't that long ago we were near the bottom of the pack. The most recent ranking, we're 15th. That's some progress. But I want to be number one. This is New York, why aren't we number one? That's my question. And we're ranked fourth in the nation for lowest infant mortality rates. Again, in New York, I'm not satisfied till we're number one in both categories. So today I'm going to unveil a plan to tackle the maternal and infant mortality crisis. And it starts with expanding high quality health care for moms and babies alike.
Now, let's just look back. In New York, we're proud that we have the most expansive paid family leave program in the country. You get paid to stay home those first four months. My son took leave. My daughter in law took leave. They had eight months of intense parenting for this baby before she went into the hands of others.
That was a gift. They never took that for granted. It made a difference. But that only supports the families after the baby is born and for the first few months, right? Now again, I speak from experience here, having had a couple of babies. You often need help during the pregnancy too. Seems like you're constantly having to go to doctor appointments. We want you to go to doctor appointments, right? That's critical. The early detection makes all the difference. So, you might need time off for medical visits. And you don't always feel so great. Especially the first trimester, right? There's a lot of symptoms and you really can't function for a while.
I remember working on Capitol Hill for Senator Moynihan – out to here, very pregnant. And they let me go take a nap every afternoon in the nurse's office. I was grateful for that little break, but I sure could have used a pillow in my own bed. But we got through it. I got through it. I worked up until the very end. But not everybody has good health during the pregnancy either – complications can set in.
And there are too many moms who cannot take time off work to take care of themselves. And that is part of the problem here, especially for minimum wage workers or hourly workers. You take time off, go to that doctor appointment, the waiting room's crowded and they say, “We'll see you in about an hour and a half.” You're clicking down how much less money is going to be in your paycheck that day. And so, a lot of mothers say, “I can't go. I know I should, but I can't take the time off work.”
We think that we should be able to take care of expecting moms before the baby's born. And we think that they should have time off. So, everything's about to change. Today, I'm announcing the State of New York will be the first state in the nation to offer paid family leave for prenatal care. Let's do it beforehand.
Again, helping moms, help them get to the doctor's office, help them take care of themselves, help them be healthier before the due date. And our data shows that prenatal care makes all the difference. It improves the odds dramatically of having a healthy pregnancy. You see your doctor more regularly, you’re going to have a healthy baby.
And consistent medical care in the early months makes all the difference. And they can detect problems, make adjustments if necessary. So we hope what we're doing here in New York will raise the bar for the rest of the nation. We will lead, but we want the rest of the nation to follow so every mom in this country has a shot at having a healthy birth and a new baby.
And part two of our plan is once again focusing on doula care. A lot of people hadn't heard much about doulas before, right? Well, they're childbirth experts who provide physical, emotional, informational support to pregnant moms – new moms. They advocate for the patient during the delivery process. Doctors have their jobs to do, but they might be delivering a lot of babies at the same time – it’s how it goes. But to have an advocate right there in the room saying, “No, we've got you, let me go get that for you, let me help you out here, let's bring that to the doctor's attention.” It's a support system that makes a huge difference. And studies show that doula care is correlated with very positive outcomes, fewer premature deliveries, reduced likelihood of postpartum depression.
And we've already taken steps to make sure that this vital care is available. Just last year, I included legislation in my Budget that says Medicaid should now cover doula services. And it started January 1. We got that finished, got it done. That way, costs will no longer be a barrier to doula services.
I signed a law just in November, many of you were there, to create a statewide community doula directory. People say, “Where do I find a doula?” Now we'll have a statewide directory for you. So, we did that just a short time ago. And this year I'm introducing in my budget that doulas can be accessed in New York without needing a referral. They've needed a referral up until now. Now they can have someone contact them to start providing services right away.
It's just common sense. It's a support system that women, particularly in Black and Brown communities, absolutely need. So, let's start removing the barriers for women to access them.
The third part of our plan will address the proliferation of surgical procedures such as C-sections that in some situations are not necessary. Now, a C-section is a legitimate medical procedure. It could be lifesaving in itself. And sometimes it's the most appropriate choice. But there are numbers that are showing that some doctors, the outliers, some perform them more often than necessary for low-risk pregnancies and low-risk situations.
The data is alarming. Nationally, there's about 15 percent of all pregnancies result in C-sections. Sounds about right. I don't really know. Sounds good to me. But some doctors are performing C-sections at twice the rate and in extreme cases, doctors are opting for C-sections in every delivery. Why are they doing this? I can't point to a single reason.
Now, there are doctors who specialize in high-risk pregnancies. I set them aside. I'm talking about low-risk pregnancies where you'd have an expectation of a normal, vaginal birth and that's not happening. So, we do know that there's a higher charge for that, the payments are higher. I'm not saying that's a motivation, I'm just saying it's out there.
It's also quicker, it's easier to schedule. So, there’re factors that are going on here, that some people are taking advantage of. And we need to be aware of that. Again, while most OBGYN doctors do put their patients’ needs first, and where would we be without them? We have to stop the outliers who are jeopardizing the health of their patients. And it's not always the right thing for moms and babies.
And so, a C-section can have higher risks, higher complications, harder to get pregnant again and further complications beyond. So, you can't really solve a problem until you identify it, right? We don't know the reasons.
We're going to launch some new accountability measures to identify doctors whose behavior in this space is out of the normal realm, outside the normal best practices that have been identified. So, we'll have additional oversight over these cases. We're also going to create new financial incentives for doctors not to have C-sections. Let's talk about that. Let's just figure out what's going on here and reduce the number of unnecessary procedures.
Another part of our plan addresses maternal mental health, the fourth part. I'm hearing a lot of yeses. People know what that's all about? Moms in the room know what we're talking about? Okay. Now they say, the CDC says, one out of eight women who've given birth experience postpartum depression. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I bet it, those are just reported. A lot of women don't know that's what they're going through.
They think, “Well, it's not going to be great, I'm feeling a lot.” No. No, it's real, right? It's real. And it can take you to a very dark place, and you don't know why. It's not your fault. It's not just that you're not getting enough rest. There is something going on clinically with your brain as a result. And one out of five pregnancy-related deaths are due to mental health conditions. Some women end up taking their own lives. It becomes so dark for them. In that case, every one of those maternal deaths in New York is preventable. They didn't have to be. It didn't have to happen.
So, we're proposing specialized training for counselors on the 988 suicide and crisis hotline. Now, we have a hotline already, but don't assume that they're trained in this very special area. So, we're going to give them training. Let's make sure when you call that phone number, that you're talking to someone who actually knows what's going on in your head. They've been there, they've experienced it, they've been trained.
They can deliver compassionate care, support, and referrals. And we'll build on the success of Project TEACH, a program that offers training to psychiatrists that don't have expertise in maternal mental health. And we'll expand it, these programs for people who work with prenatal individuals, therapists, lactation consultants, visiting nurses – make sure everybody understands what the signs are to look for, what questions to ask. Figure out if this person, this woman, needs something more than just some good bed rest.
And there's so many costs associated with childbirth and raising a family, so many costs. I remember last year we expanded the Child Care Tax Credit. They used to allow a nice tax credit for families with four-year-olds on up. I said, “But wait a minute, diapers?” They are usually out of diapers by age four, right? They're usually off a formula by age four, they're outgrowing their clothes every six months for newborns, for babies. So, I said, “Wait a minute, why isn't that tax credit available for families at birth on up?” And we changed that. That's what now the law is here in the State of New York.
But sometimes with health, and even with women with health insurance, the copays can be so high, right? High deductibles. And women are prevented from getting the care they need. So, as part five of our plan, I'm introducing legislation in my budget that eliminates copays and other out of pocket expenses for pregnancy-related care. Get rid of the copays. This will help 1.3 million New Yorkers who are enrolled in the Essential Plans or our Qualified Health Plans. And now they'll be able to get the care they need without a single copay or cost sharing measure.
Finally, you think about infant mortality. What are some of the causes? We're still studying. We'll have more ideas. But right now, we've had 120 sleep related infant deaths in the State of New York. Babies already came through delivery, already sent home because they're healthy, and they die at home. Studies show that a safe sleep environment is a matter of life and death.
When babies sleep in beds with their parents, or their siblings, or on the floor – my parents lived in a little tiny trailer park with my brother when he was born. They joke about having put them in a drawer. I'm not sure if that's true or not. But there wasn't much space. It was tiny. But if you can't offer the baby a crib, you're jeopardizing that child. You're at a significantly higher risk of death without a crib.
Experts want babies to have a separate sleep environment to reduce that risk. So, as the sixth and final part of our plan, we're going to provide those cribs. Why? We will make sure that every family that needs help buying a crib will be able to get a portable crib. Birthing hospitals across the state will make referrals to local services and organizations that will make sure that families receive the cribs.
Every family deserves a healthy start in life, just like little Daniel over there, who has got very good lungs. Well done. Every mother, every family deserves to have the joy and excitement associated with pregnancy and childbirth, not fear and trepidation as we bring these little people into the world.
When all families have the support they need, one, we keep more people alive. We keep moms and babies alive, and our potential is limitless, and we can crack this nut. We can do better. I know we can. I know we can. So, as a mom, as your Governor, that is my commitment to all of you. Thank you for being here to listen to our bold new agenda plan, part of my State of the State, which we're unveiling in its entirety on Tuesday. But to me, this was so important that we focus on moms and babies because they deserve it. They deserve it. Thank you very much.