Blue Cross Sheds Light on Maternal Health Challenges in Minority Communities
Executive shares her personal experience to raise awareness, increase understanding

March 3, 2022

Baton Rouge, La. – Recent research shows that racial disparities in death rates during pregnancy and childbirth may be larger than previously known. In February and March, which are Black History and Women’s History months, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is raising awareness of maternal health challenges, particularly for African Americans.


To help others understand and spark conversations about where change is needed in the health care system, a member of Blue Cross’ senior leadership team is sharing her personal story of the biases and challenges she faced as a young, Black, low-income woman while pregnant with her first child.


“Imagine this – being young, pregnant and on Medicaid with no income. But the frightened mother-to-be was also married, in college and in distress, experiencing complications with her first baby,” said Paula Shepherd, Blue Cross Senior Vice President, Benefit Operations. “Instead of the empathy, reassurance and care she needed and deserved, she was treated like just another name on a card, and dismissed by the doctor’s offhand but overheard comment, ‘They are all the same.’”


Shepherd shares her experience as part of Blue Cross’ Day of Understanding series, a collection of employees sharing personal experiences and giving candid talks on diversity, equity and inclusion issues and events .


VIDEO: In “Building Bridges Instead of Broken Roads” (7:50), Shepherd discusses maternal health challenges in the Black community and shares her story.


Shepherd’s experience is an unfortunately common one. According to the World Population Review, Louisiana has the nation’s highest maternal death rate.

  • Out of every 100,000 Louisianians who give birth, 58 of them will die.
  • When only looking at Black Louisiana mothers, the maternal death rate is four times higher.
  • The pre-term birth rate among Black women is 55% higher than the rate among all other women, according to March of Dimes.
  • Louisiana got an ‘F’ in the 2021 March of Dimes Report Card, mainly because of the state’s high pre-term birth rate


“Most of these things can be addressed with proper prenatal care and reproductive health care, but many Black women have a difficult time accessing the reproductive health care that meets their needs,” Shepherd said. “This might be because of key social determinants of health: where they live, access to transportation, inability to schedule appointments, or, like my story, a lack of care and compassion from the providers, or a lack of trust on the part of the patients.”


Building Bridges


Research shows that social determinants of health such as the expectant parents’ economic status, education, transportation options, availability of community resources and affordable health care play a big role in the disparities in maternal and birth outcomes. Blue Cross is working to build bridges to close these gaps in care and connect patients with health care access through resources and creating partnerships.


In 2021, the Louisiana insurer and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced a National Health Equity Strategy to confront the nation’s crisis in racially based health disparities. This strategy intends to change the trajectory of heath disparities and re-imagine a more equitable health care system. BCBSA has convened a national advisory panel of doctors, public health experts and community leaders to provide guidance. One of the public goals is to reduce racial disparities in maternal health by 50% in five years.


Blue Cross and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation have sponsored and partnered with nonprofits that provide resources and support for pregnant patients, babies and young children. One the Foundation’s most successful grantees, Fit NOLA, recently expanded a program that lets doctors give pregnant patients or those who have a chronic condition a “fruit and vegetable prescription” they can use to get free, fresh produce at local farmers’ markets.


Resources for Expecting Parents


Blue Cross has in-house programs and services to help pregnant members and new parents:


Healthy Blue Beginnings

In Blue Cross’ Care Management program for high-risk pregnancies, health coaches help keep mom and baby healthy. This program offers pregnant women personalized information and confidential support throughout their pregnancies, from Blue Cross nurses who have experience in maternal and prenatal care. Healthy Blue Beginnings is available at no extra cost to members who qualify. Visit to learn more or connect with a health coach.



The insurer’s Care Management program also offers services to connect expecting and new parents to a wide range of free or low-cost community services. Coffective is a coalition of community resources to support women before, during and after pregnancy. Learn more at



Another pregnancy support program is a unique texting service called text4baby. Moms get free text messages with health and safety tips for their pregnancy and through the baby’s first year. The messages are tailored based on due date or baby’s birth date. Just text the word BABY (BEBE for Spanish tips) to 511411 on your cell phone. You can cancel the messages at any time. For more information, go to


Community Programs
To help address social and economic challenges. Blue Cross has a free, online search tool to connect you with a variety of social support services. Expecting parents and families can find assistance for needs such as meal delivery, transportation, low-cost medications, counseling services or health education. Most of the services listed are low or no cost. You can search for services locally or anywhere around the country. Learn more by visiting   


Visit the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana YouTube channelto see short videos with the clinical team and others discussing health topics. Subscribe to know when new videos are added. You can also connect with Blue Cross on social media@BCBSLA for regular updates. Blue Cross posts regularly on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok.

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to our mission to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. Founded in New Orleans in 1934, we are a tax-paying nonprofit health insurer with offices in every major region to serve our customers. We have been recognized for the past three years as an honoree of The Civic 50, named by Points of Light as one of the 50 most community-minded companies in the United States.


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. We are a private mutual company, owned by our policyholders, with an independent Louisiana Board of Directors and no shareholders. We invite all Louisianians to visit our website at or talk to us on social media.


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