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By Supporting a Diverse Doula Workforce in Colorado, Mama Bird Doulas Services and Colorado Access Partnership Aims to Improve Black Maternal Health Outcomes

With a Focus on Training, Entrepreneurship Tools and Mentoring, These Organizations are Working to Strengthen BIPOC Doula Offerings and Reduce Health Disparities for Black Birthers

DENVER – As health care priorities grow around equitable, culturally relevant services to fundamentally address the health and social determinants of health of diverse communities, so does the need to build and sustain infrastructures to support health care providers – the individuals rendering these services. Often, these health care providers are from the communities they serve, and have shared identities and experiences that make them particularly well-situated to serve their patients.

Colorado Access is aware of the well-documented health disparities in maternal and child health outcomes among Black populations in the United States and unfortunately sees these disparities reflected in its membership.

One of the most promising ways that disparities within this group are being approached is through doula support during labor and birth, particularly by doulas with shared racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds. Despite a wealth of data surrounding the positive impact of culturally responsive doula care on birth outcomes, it’s estimated that less than 10% of doulas in the U.S. are Black (source). In addition, while doulas have proven to be effective members of the health care workforce, current doula infrastructures and the governing and health care bodies that hold them are not conducive to high workforce retention and long-term career sustainability.

To begin addressing this, Colorado Access is working with Birdie Johnson and her nonprofit organization Mama Bird Doula Services (MBDS) – which offers doula support as well as perinatal care and education to families in Denver and Aurora – on efforts aimed to ultimately reduce health disparities among Black birthers. When the partnership began in December 2021, the two groups sought to identify and support 40 Black birthers covered by Medicaid. Supporting this initial group remains a priority, and the partners are seeking to expand their support to encompass both the doula workforce and members served by doulas.

“Having a doula is a basic right, not a luxury,” said Imaan Watts, program assistant and doula at MBDS, serving the Medicaid population. Coming from Georgia, Watts knows firsthand the importance of finding a community made up of women of color to support her, which is what drew her to the organization. “Our curriculum supports black and brown bodies, addressing the biological differences and lived experiences unique to people of color.”

In January 2023, Johnson introduced a new program for doulas who identify as Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color (BIPOC) with a desire to support BIPOC families. This program is designed to create community and provide continuing education, entrepreneurship tools and mentorship to participants. Twenty-four doulas were accepted into the first cohort,beginning in January 2023 and running through January 2024.

The goal of this program is to demonstrate that through suitable compensation, comprehensive training and opportunities for advancements, the BIPOC doula workforce can increasingly reduce health disparities for Black birthers in the state of Colorado. Colorado Access also believes this project could have informative power on policies and conversations around Medicaid-covered doula services, a priority topic in the current state health and political landscape.

“We are not only committed to cultivating a highly diverse network of providers that our members can trust and relate to, but also to addressing disparities in birthing outcomes across racial and ethnic groups,” said Annie Lee, president and CEO of Colorado Access. “The fact that Black birthers are more likely to experience life-threatening conditions as well as increased incidence of pregnancy-related complications is a call to action, and shows clear community need for more culturally relevant support, programs and resources.”

About Colorado Access

As the largest and most experienced public sector health plan in the state, Colorado Access is a nonprofit organization that works beyond just navigating health services. The company focuses on meeting members’ unique needs by partnering with providers and community organizations to provide better personalized care through measurable results. Their broad and deep view of regional and local systems allows them to stay focused on members’ care while collaborating on measurable and economically sustainable systems that serve them better. Learn more at