Stacey D. Stewart joined March of Dimes as its fifth President on January 1, 2017. In this role, Stewart heads the organization leading the fight for the health of all moms and babies. She is responsible for all aspects of the organization’s strategy, vision and operations.
CFU: How long has the March of Dimes been in existence?
SS: March of Dimes is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2018. President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded our organization in 1938 to fight the terrible epidemic of polio that paralyzed and killed thousands — mainly children — every year. With March of Dimes support, Dr. Jonas Salk and later Dr. Albert Sabin developed safe and effective vaccines against polio, to the tremendous relief of Americans and people around the world. Today our mission is to lead the fight to improve the health of all moms and babies.
CFU: What role does the March of Dimes play in supporting the health of mothers and their unborn babies?
SS: March of Dimes is the leading organization for the health of moms and babies, fighting for all families no matter who they are, where they live or what they can afford. We are working to reduce the rising rate of premature birth in this country, with a focus on populations and geographic regions that need our help most. We believe there is an urgent need to address the unacceptable racial and ethnic disparities in infant and maternal death and illness.
SS: We are funding critical research focused on finding the unknown causes of premature labor and new ways to prevent it with an international network of six Prematurity Research Centers.
SS: March of Dimes advocates for policies that prioritize the health of moms, babies and families — for example, the PREEMIE Act that was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). We’re very pleased that this important initiative is moving forward to renew and improve federal programs aimed at preventing and treating preterm birth.
SS: Additionally, Congress will soon consider the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act (H.R. 1318) and the Maternal Health Accountability Act (S. 1112). If passed, these would support states in establishing or improving maternal mortality review committees and examine every case of maternal death in order to identify causes and patterns. These are needed pieces of legislation as the maternal mortality rate is not only increasing, but at the highest of any country in the developed world.
CFU: What are some of the common reasons that women of reproductive age are not more proactive when it comes to their health?
SS: Every woman wants to have a healthy baby. However, we know that many women do not get the health care they need when they need it. Quality health care before pregnancy and proven interventions to reduce the risk of premature birth are not made available to all women, particularly black and Hispanic women, lower income women, and women in underserved geographic areas.
SS: One result of this inequity is that the preterm birth rate among black women is about 50 percent higher than the rate among white women. March of Dimes is committed to leveling the playing field to give all babies a fighting chance.
CFU: Do the changing politics that surround healthcare such as budget cuts and policy changes also affect the March of Dimes’ organization?
SS: We have played and continue to play critical roles in shaping state, national and local policies and healthcare practices for women, infants, children and families. Our 80-year record of success reflects our bipartisan commitment to working with policymakers and healthcare providers.
Publicly Supported Health Care
SS: With a number of states making their own changes to health care in response to uncertainties at the Federal level, it’s important that we engage at both the federal and state levels and protect critical safety nets such a Medicaid and other publicly supported programs. It’s critical we work collectively to ensure women and children can continue to count on these essential health programs.
CFU: What are some of the major challenges now impacting your organization and how can the public assist?
SS: Recent changes in philanthropy and disruptions to the economy have been challenging to many nonprofits, including March of Dimes. Ensuring that every woman of childbearing age in the U.S. has insurance that includes pregnancy care is an ongoing struggle.
Public Support Needed
SS: There is an urgent need for new solutions to address the threat of premature birth and growing racial and ethnic inequities. Now more than ever, March of Dimes needs the public’s support for our efforts from research to education to advocacy. We ask the public to join us in our mission by donating, raising awareness and speaking out to their elected officials to support moms and babies across the nation.