ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New York is facing a maternal health crisis. A measure to help address the alarming infant and maternal mortality rate in the Empire State is now law. Monday afternoon, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation which will expand doula care access to expecting parents in New York.

“Here in NY it’s actually worse for Black women to give birth then it is nationwide,” says Senator Samra Brouk.

The 55th District Senator is the prime sponsor of the bill, inspired by her own experiences with a doula by her side during her transformation into new motherhood last year, while in office. The measure directs the State Health Department to create the Community Doula Directory, where expecting parents can find resources in their own communities, and see what service is covered by Medicaid. This comes as preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics finds infant mortatility rates rose about 3% in 2021. When it comes to matneral mortality, Black mothers are five times more likely to die in childbirth compared to their white counterparts, according to the Senator’s Office.

“One of the things that the Department of Health has found is that 78% of these deaths in NY are preventable and an overwhelming majority of them, often times racism and descrimination is cited as a reason, as part of that care process,” Sen. Brouk explains.

A doula is a non-clinical professional who provides emotional, phyiscal and mental support to not only the birthing person, but their partner as well. Arguably one of the most significant elements of the bill is that is also establishes a Medicaid reimbursement for doula services.

Right now, doulas are only accessible via prvate pay with costs ranging from a few hundred dollars ($200 – $500) all the way up towards the $2,000 range. With this legislation now signed, starting in January of 2024, Medicaid will cover $1,325 for the Upstate region and $1500 for NYC across the five boroughs.

“What we have found is that having a doula present and a doula caring for that birthing person can actually help disrupt some of those barriers to getting the care they need and so that’s why this is so important because now we are offering increased access to this type of lifesaving care,” says Sen. Brouk.

Phyllis Sharp of Royalty Birth Services in Rochester has been by the senator’s side, during her journey of welcoming a baby last year. She tells News 8 she is incredibly proud of the efforts by the Senator, noting this type of service is being sought more frequently.

“Now that people are more aware of what we do they want that. They want that extra person in the room that knows something that they don’t know, or we normally have family members but no one that knows medical terms sometimes, or what the doctors are talking about. They need someone that they trust,” says Sharp.

The Community Doula Directory and Medicaid reibursement for doula services are just a step, the senator tells News 8, to begin to build the bridges needed to create the village all birthing people have a right to access.

“I’m the second person to give birth while serving as a State Senator in NY’s history. The first one was decades ago and so we need more of that. We need people with the experiences of what it’s like in our maternal healthcare system. We have our first female Governor who’s a mother and a grandmother, signing this bill today, the assembly sponsor is a mother of mulitple children. We have all witnessed and experienced what it means to give birth in this state and that also qualifies us to be able to put forward legislation like this, to make sure that every birthing person has the experience they deserve,” Sen. Brouk says.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, studies show that having a doula as a member of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50 percent, and the length of labor by 25 percent.