Funding to launch safe haven aims to reduce Black maternal mortality

Black maternal mortality
City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson presents a ceremonial check to A Home From Shana founder Cleopatra Robinson.

A maternity safe haven shelter for homeless women – described by officials as the first such center in the nation – is receiving $250,000 in city funding, allowing the facility to potentially open later this year.

A Home From Shana Foundation wants to open a space staffed with doulas to provide prenatal, birth and postpartum care to pregnant mothers struggling with housing insecurity.

“LaborLiveLove,” as the project is known, will be located in West or Southwest Philadelphia and could begin serving women this summer or early fall, Cleopatra Robinson, the organization’s founder, said at a ceremonial City Hall check presentation Wednesday.

City Council Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who secured the funding, hopes the safe haven will reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that structural racism and implicit bias contribute to these health disparities,” she said. “In other words, it’s racism, not race.”

maternal mortality
An attendee at a news conference announcing funding for A Home From Shana Foundation wears one of the organization’s shirts Wednesday, Feb. 28.Jack Tomczuk

Black women comprised 73% of the 26 pregnancy-related deaths between 2013 and 2018 and are four times more likely than white women to die as a result of childbirth in Philadelphia, according to a 2022 report from the city’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee.

Too often, new Black mothers are being sent home from medical centers with serious symptoms, including difficulty breathing, excessing bleeding, chest pain and high fever, Robinson said.

“Being pregnant and giving birth while Black can possibly be one of the most traumatic experiences that one would ever endure,” she added.

Robinson became a doula and started the foundation in honor of her friend LaShana “Shana” Gilmore, a 34-year-old woman who died in 2019 while giving birth to her second child.

The cause is also personal for Gilmore Richardson. While giving birth to her son David eight years ago, she felt severe pain and suffered a ruptured uterus, a potentially life-threatening complication.

“If it had been any longer, things may not have ended well,” Gilmore Richardson said. “I knew that this was an issue before that time, but what happened to me in 2016 really helped me understand how deep this issue was.”

maternal mortality
Cleopatra Robinson, founder of a Home From Shana Foundation, speaks Wednesday, Feb. 28, at a City Hall news conference.Jack Tomczuk

Gilmore Richardson successfully advocated for the $250,000 in funding for A Home From Shana Foundation through an amendment during last summer’s budget process. But she wants recurring city dollars to address Black maternal mortality.

“This is just the beginning, but we shouldn’t have to do this,” she added. “It should be ongoing in our budget every single year, and that’s what I’m going to push for.”

Gina Curry, a Delaware County state representative who spoke at Wednesday’s announcement, helped form the Pennsylvania Black Maternal Health Caucus in October.

She, along with fellow lawmakers, plans to introduce a legislative package next month modeled on the Black Maternal Momnibus Act, a collection of 13 bills aimed at tackling pregnancy-related disparities. The Harrisburg version will incorporate a community fund and ensure commercial insurance coverage for blood pressure cuffs and doula services, among other initiatives, Curry said.

maternal mortality
Nina Winfield holds her 1-month-old son, Johari, during a City Hall news conference Wednesday, Feb. 28.Jack Tomczuk

Nina Winfield utilized A Home From Shana Foundation when she gave birth to her son, Johari, on Jan. 26. Earlier in her pregnancy, she had struggled with finding stable housing.

“I had a couple complications,” Winfield said at the news conference. “But I had an advocate there with me. Without the advocate, things could have went differently.”

‘Housing For All’ is a two-year project in which Metro Philadelphia will investigate the city’s affordable housing crisis. It is made possible by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism’s Philadelphia Local News Sustainability Initiative grant.