AUSTIN, Texas — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) and Huston-Tillotson University (HT), a historically Black college or university (HBCU), outlined the new Boldly B.L.U.E. program, which stands for birthing, learning, understanding and empowering, to improve Texas maternal and infant health. The program — as part of BCBSTX’s expanded Special Beginnings initiative — aims to increase the number of culturally aligned and diverse doulas, lay midwives and certified lactation consultants in Central Texas while building a maternal health research network that leverages the insights of birth workers and their clients to derive best practices and policy insights.
The innovative collaboration between BCBSTX and HT seeks to address significant challenges to maternal health equity in Texas by increasing access to continuous birth support and creating structures and processes that infuse community voice into maternal health research.
“Considering the stark historical and ongoing statistics on maternal health disparities and maternal mental health, we recognize the role that comprehensive, value-based, person-centered and coordinated efforts play in ensuring health equity and high-quality care,” said Dr. Angela Moemeka, chief medical officer for Texas Medicaid at BCBSTX. “We want to continue going above and beyond by listening to community voices and identifying the specific challenges that are leading to adverse maternal and infant health outcomes. Then we can make informed investments in our communities, like with HT, to move the needle.”
HT’s Boldly B.L.U.E. program will also include two Central Texas maternal health equity non-profits — Black Mamas ATX and the Healing Hands Community Doula Project — to connect resources and expertise to achieve the goals of the initiative.
“Huston-Tillotson University is beyond excited about this major collaboration between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, Black Mamas ATX and Healing Hands. What we discover and develop through this collaboration will not only become a model for supporting the women of Austin, but the women of Texas and beyond,” said Dr. Melva K Wallace, HT president and CEO.
Healing Hands’ doula and community health worker training will be enhanced with HT business and entrepreneurship courses, as well as a research skills component. The program’s first cohort of doulas is being recruited and to start courses in October. Simultaneously, an advisory committee that includes HT staff and faculty will develop two more curriculums, one for certified midwives and another for certified lactation consultants, for a projected start in fall 2024.
Additionally, Boldly B.L.U.E. will also develop a maternal health care worker research network that includes their newly trained doulas, HT research faculty and partner organization practitioners to investigate the impact of continuous maternal care for mothers and infants and identify intervention gaps.
“We were also guided by a shared understanding that collaborations that leverage shared vision and combine unique capacities and experiences have the deepest roots and the most robust potential for sustained impact,” said Dr. Amanda Masino, HT chair of Natural Sciences and associate professor of biology. “Simply put, these birth workers protect the health of mothers and infants. We need more of them. I am very proud of what we have planned together.”
In addition to academic supports, BCBSTX’s grant funds scholarships for doula training through HT’s Boldly B.L.U.E.
BCBSTX’s expansion of the Special Beginnings maternal and infant health initiative dedicates substantial resources statewide — focusing on DFW, Houston, RGV and Austin regions — to improve health outcomes for Texas moms and babies by identifying ways to reduce maternal morbidities, mortality and health disparities.
The focus of the expansion, which was guided by recommendations in the 2022 Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and Department of State Health Services Joint Biennial Report, includes:
BCBSTX is building on long-standing maternal and infant care programs as well as relationships with trusted local community organizations, health care providers and thought leaders to leverage its knowledge, experience and talents to increase access to care, reduce care gaps and educate and engage Texans at a local level.
“We are scaling the ways we reach and serve not just our members but all Texans by further strengthening programs in the communities we serve,” said Dr. Mark Chassay, BCBSTX vice president and chief medical officer. “Given our 95-year history in Texas, we stand together with the state, community partners and thought leaders in solving the problem of poor maternal and infant health outcomes across Texas.”
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) — the only statewide, customer-owned health insurer in Texas — is the largest provider of health benefits in the state, working with more than 140,000 physicians and health care practitioners, and 520 hospitals to serve more than 7 million members in all 254 counties. BCBSTX is a Division of Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) (which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Texas, Illinois, Montana, Oklahoma and New Mexico). Health Care Service Corporation is a Mutual Legal Reserve Company and an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
About Huston-Tillotson University
Huston-Tillotson University, the first institution of learning in Austin, Texas, has roots dating back to 1875. HT is an independent, church-related, historically black, four-year liberal arts institution located on a 23-acre tree-lined campus near downtown in East Austin. Huston-Tillotson University’s mission is to nurture a legacy of leadership and excellence in education, connecting knowledge, power, passion, and values. The University offers associate and master’s degrees in addition to Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in more than 19 areas of study. Huston-Tillotson University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate, baccalaureate and master’s degrees.