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Healthcare Site to Address Maternal Health Disparities for Women of Colour

VALENTINA ZARINS MARTINEZ, HOST: These days, you can find a doctor and health care advice easily on-line. But the advice can be pretty generic, trying to target everyone. That’s why an entrepreneur has started a health care portal specifically aimed at women of color.

Henrietta McFarlane reports on how this health app is different.

HENRIETTA MCFARLANE, BYLINE: After business school, Maya Hardigan worked in the Pharmaceutical industry. She lead teams at Pfizer and had three children in New York City.

But when she went to the obstetrician, she always felt like she wasn’t getting health care targeted at her as Black Woman.

MAYA HARDIGAN: I think what sometimes subconsciously happens for us is that we have lots of small marginalizing experiences. If this is happening to me, with the experience and the knowledge and the resources that I have, what is happening to so many of our other mothers of colour

MCFARLANE: According to the CDC, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.

So in 2020, Hardigan quit her job and started a new company called Mae. That’s M-A-E named after Dr. May Chinn - the first African-American female to graduate from NYU medical school.

Mae is a website filled with pictures of pregnant women of color and inspirational quotes. Patients can use the site for weekly check ins, to ask specific questions, talk to a doula and get general advice uniquely for them. And there’s a big potential audience. Women like Ebony Spano.

EBONY SPANO: When I had my second son, I was 25. And I noticed that his complexion was a little different. And he had jaundice. And that was something that I wasn't privy to. It was a very uncomfortable experience. And I felt there was not enough information, there was not enough steering, for me.

MCFARLANE: Jaundice is a risk for all newborns. But the stakes are higher for infants of certain ethnicities and races.

SPANO: This was something that had not really been talked about with me or shared with me. You know what goes in the information out there, especially for young black moms

MCFARLANE: But even with a potential audience, starting a health care company from scratch is daunting. Maya Hardigan experienced this with the launch of Mae.

HARDIGAN: I was a team of one, right. And so all of that was very overwhelming for me. We know how few dollars go to women entrepreneurs, and, how many fewer dollars go to women, founders of color

MCFARLANE: Eventually in September 2021, Hardigan raised 1.3 million dollars in a deal with Steel Sky Ventures. The business plan for MAE is, in part, to make money by tailoring their services to low income mothers on Medicaid. Lot’s of companies don’t want to deal with medicaid patients, but Hardigan knows they’re essential.

HARDIGAN: we're seeing Medicaid fund about 50% of births in the US each year. But for black women, we're seeing that number at more like 65 68% of black births are covered under Medicaid. And so for us, you know, it was a really conscious and early and strategic decision for us to say, you know, focusing on Medicaid.

MCFARLANE: And a lot more companies want their focus to be women of color. Hurdle, Health in her Hue, and Clinify Health to name a few. Competition isn’t a bad thing. More services means more access to healthcare for women of color. Henrietta McFarlane, Columbia Radio News.

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