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Excellus presents $30K health award to Mohawk Valley prenatal and maternal support program

By Traci DeLore (


Representatives from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield present a $30,000 Health Equity Innovation Award to Mohawk Valley Prenatal & Maternal Support to help fund its Sister Circle: Black Birth & Breastfeeding Initiative program. From left to right are: Shayna Keller, community investments and partnerships manager at Excellus; Asjhely Engram, Mohawk Valley Prenatal & Maternal Support program director; Teoka Muhammad, doula, nutritionist, and life/fitness coach; and Eve Van de Wal, Excellus regional president. (Photo credit: Excellus BlueCross BlueShield)

UTICA, N.Y. — Excellus BlueCross BlueShield announced it has presented a $30,000 Health Equity Innovation Award (HEIA) to Mohawk Valley Prenatal and Maternal Support (MVPMS) to support its Sister Circle: Black Birth & Breastfeeding Initiative program.

The HEIA awards program provides financial support to community programs that address racial and ethnic health disparities across the upstate service area of Excellus.

Sister Circle is a birth and breastfeeding initiative that provides and promotes doula services to women of color with the goal of improving birth rates, birth outcomes, and providing breast-feeding and postpartum support.

As part of the program, MVPMS will provide culturally sensitive doula training to 10 women of color who are passionate about childbirth and breastfeeding. The course, which will be taught by DONA International Certified Doula Trainers, will train the women to be birth doulas and includes lactation (breastfeeding counselor) support training.

Doulas are non-medical professionals trained to provide physical, emotional, and information support to assist and advocate for patients and their families during labor and delivery as well as breastfeeding initiation immediately after delivery. They continue to provide emotional and informational support during the postpartum period.

After completing training, the new doulas will participate in monthly business-mentorship sessions for six months and be paired with 10 pregnant women of color.

HEIA grants of up to $30,000 are awarded to help fund initiatives, programs, and research that specifically target root causes of health inequities with a focus on addressing structural racism.

“We’re committed to supporting community partnerships and initiatives that directly target health disparities, promote access to care, and address the underlying social determinants of health,” Excellus Regional President Eve Van de Wal said in a release. “We are proud to support this program because it directly addresses the disparity that exists for maternal health for women of color.”