NJ First Lady Tammy Murphy & Camden Coalition talk maternal health

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Just one month after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was sworn into office, First Lady Tammy Murphy visited the Camden Coalition on February 20, 2018 to learn about our Camden Delivers program. Camden Delivers provides support and care management for women in Camden with complex health and social needs to improve their maternal health.

“To see someone who has a lot of power to make system-level changes come and listen to us, it’s inspiring,” said Michelle Adyniec, Clinical Manager of Innovation Operations for the Camden Coalition. “We help people every day whose lives are affected by system barriers and it can be really frustrating. It keeps you feeling like this work is important because things can change.”

Our staff presented Tammy Murphy with an overview of the Coalition including the highlights, challenges, and future plans of our maternal health program. Christine Keck, a graduate of Camden Delivers, spoke candidly with Tammy about her journey as an expectant mother struggling with opioid addiction, and the support she received from our care team in partnership with the Addiction Medicine Program at Cooper Hospital.

“Speaking and getting such a welcoming reaction from the first lady of New Jersey and from everyone in the room was such a natural high,” said Christine. “It made me realize the power of sharing personal experience and the impact it can have on people. It was truly a blessing that I never would have had if not for my recovery, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Coalition.”

Bearing witness to a powerful story
When Christine first met our care team in October 2016, she was five months pregnant, homeless, and struggling with heroin addiction. Speaking to the first lady, Christine recounted the stigma she experienced when others criticized her for using drugs while pregnant — and how this shaming, in turn, drove her to withdraw even further into her substance use disorder.

“Christine touched on that beautifully when she was with Tammy,” said Michelle. “She said, ‘When I was using, I was around all people who used. The day I found out I was pregnant, I was still using and so were they. But all of a sudden, they were like, ‘I can’t believe that you use and you’re pregnant.’ As a nurse in a hospital, I could speak to that, too. Pregnant women get villainized when people know that they’re using.”

Christine started receiving care from Dr. Kaitlan Baston, an addiction specialist and medical director of the Addiction Medicine Program, and her colleague Iris Jones, a licensed professional counselor. At Cooper, she began treatment with buprenorphine and was connected to a variety of services to meet her medical and social needs — among them, primary and obstetrics care, hospital social work services, advocacy with the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, and coverage of her medical costs to ensure a safe discharge. To help her secure housing, they connected her to the Camden Coalition and our enrollment staff. Once Christine enrolled in our intervention, our care team collaborated with Christine’s providers to link her to the services she needed to meet her immediate needs and better manage her health long-term. This included scheduling and accompanying her to appointments, helping her obtain a birth certificate, and placing her and her baby in a shelter.

At that time, Christine and her boyfriend had a history of substance use disorders and poor credit history. It made finding a landlord willing to accept both of them a major hurdle. With perseverance and some creative problem-solving, our care team was able to secure an apartment by working collaboratively with a landlord and assuring her that they were motivated, responsible tenants committed to their recovery.

Today, Christine is thriving. She meets regularly with her counselor, participates in a recovery group at Cooper through the perinatal treatment program where she now serves as a mentor, and lives in her apartment with her boyfriend, who is working and also maintaining progress in his recovery. Their one-year old baby is happy, healthy, teething, and learning to walk. For Christine, sharing her personal story of recovery with New Jersey’s first lady aligns with her growing passion to advocate for change, a goal she identified to the care team as key to her recovery process.

“I had someone in my corner to help navigate the things that are ignored and forgotten during active addiction,” said Christine. “Because they put a little extra effort into helping my son and I become stable, I’m no longer a statistic on the street, my son isn’t in foster care being raised on the state funding, and I’m not taking a bed in ER from someone who truly needs it. If programs like Camden Delivers were expanded and given funding, we would see the rates of homelessness, addicted newborns, and overdoses decrease; ERs not being misused; and employment increase.”

Listening to Christine’s story was, “impactful,” said Tammy. “I came to the Camden Coalition to learn about effective strategies to improve maternal health among our state’s most vulnerable women. I was beyond humbled to meet Christine Keck and bear witness to her powerful story. Her experience gives me hope that programs like Camden Delivers can help New Jersey become an innovative force in expanding healthcare access for all women.”

Since meeting, Christine and Tammy have stayed in touch on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to meet at the Camden Coalition.

“A hopeful sign for maternal mortality in New Jersey”
Through programs like Camden Delivers, Cooper’s Addiction Medicine Program, and other community programs that seek to support women in pregnancy, women like Christine with complex health and social challenges are getting the coordinated services and support they urgently need. They are coping with not only the stresses of pregnancy and motherhood, but also dealing with a range of other complications — housing instability, addiction, a lack of income, little or no support structure, poor mental health, early childhood trauma, physically and/or emotionally abusive partners, and more. Many women in our program are also losing Medicaid coverage of postpartum care after six weeks. With so much going on, managing chronic conditions is often the last thing on their minds. Camden Delivers aims to tailor our care management intervention to their unique needs so they can stay healthy in pregnancy and beyond.

Tammy Murphy’s visit to the Camden Coalition to learn about our Camden Delivers program comes at a time when policymakers in Trenton are taking notice of the rising maternal mortality rates in New Jersey. The state ranks 35th in the country in pregnancy-related deaths. In Camden, nearly 35% of women are admitted to the hospital or visit the emergency department within a year of giving birth, often because of untreated chronic illness. Increased attention has also focused on the racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality; the most recent report in the New Jersey Maternal Mortality Review Program found that the maternal mortality rate for black women was 46.5 per 100,000 births — more than three times the rate of that of white women.

“We hope that this is the first of many positive meetings with the new administration around the power of the Coalition’s work,” noted Jon Tew, Senior Program Manager for Policy and Advocacy. “I think it’s a hopeful sign for maternal mortality in New Jersey. The fact that this much attention is happening this quickly in this administration is a very good sign that important changes are coming that will hopefully make a difference.”


This story was updated on March 26, 2018 with input from the Addiction Medicine Program at Cooper Hospital.

Camden Delivers is supported by funding from Merck, through Merck for Mothers, the company’s 10-year, $500 million initiative to help create a world where no woman dies giving life. Merck for Mothers is known as MSD for Mothers outside the United States and Canada.

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