WASHINGTON (WDVM) — D.C. is home to about 40 prenatal facilities, but they aren’t evenly distributed across all eight wards. There are zero maternity wards east of the Anacostia River, home to Wards 7 and 8. According to DC Health Matters, over 91% of Ward 7 and 8 residents are Black and African American.
“In fact, a couple years ago we had some hospital closures in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 that actually reduced the amount of services available to women,” said Mallory Mpare-Quarles, D.C. mission lead for March of Dimes’ Better Starts for All program, which includes a full service, women’s health clinic called the Mama and Baby Bus. “So really the idea of this bus is to fill some of that gap and fill that void.”
The bus visits two sites in D.C. and one in Prince George’s County, Md: the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative and University of Maryland Capital Region Health.
“This is a touching and very, very warm area because I’m able to help women that need help — that would not normally get help because they do not have insurance, they do not have the means to get to the doctor,” said Monique Stevens, a nurse midwife and nurse practitioner on the bus.
Mpare-Quarles says the bus’s conveniency promotes continuity of care from a woman’s first menstrual cycle to menopause. Services include pregnancy tests, access to birth control, STI screenings, physical annual exams and breast exams.
“In D.C., we have a high number of women, particularly African-American women, who are coming into prenatal care not till the second or third trimester of their pregnancy,” Mpare-Quarles said.
Stevens says that could have dyer consequences, like “trouble with delivering the babies, cesarean deliveries, preterm delivery; those type of things. If we see them sooner, then we could try to prevent those things from happening.”
“Even though I have expertise in this field I faced a lot of anxiety when I was going through my own pregnancy because I know what the statistics are with respect to Black women,” said Mpare-Quarles, “so I think being able to do something proactive about it and being able to partner with people on the ground to do that is really rewarding.”
Sign up for the Better Starts for All program here.