Rutgers School of Social Work Assistant Professor Felix Muchomba has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to support Muchomba's study examining policy levers that have the potential to improve and reduce disparities in maternal health in New Jersey. The two-year grant is the largest RWJF grant received by the School of Social Work in the School’s history.
“This award is an investment in research that seeks to understand an urgent and growing problem in our state and the United States,” Muchomba said. “I welcome this opportunity to collaborate with a prestigious network of scholars to advance research with the potential to improve and to reduce disparities in maternal health.”
Maternal mortality and morbidity are pressing issues in New Jersey despite the state having one of the lowest poverty rates and highest median incomes in the nation. In fact, the state has the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in America, one of the highest maternal morbidity rates, and the rates continue to rise. Further, there are large maternal health disparities within New Jersey by race, ethnicity, and county. Yet few studies have investigated the extent or underlying causes of these disparities.
Muchomba’s study will seek to explain why some areas in New Jersey have better or worse maternal health outcomes, overall or among only some racial and ethnic groups, by studying differences in local laws and regulations. In this project, the research team will use 10 years of New Jersey birth records and other data to:
- Identify high-incidence and low-incidence localities—municipalities and areas in New Jersey that have worse or better maternal health outcomes than state-level rates—overall and by race and ethnicity, and;
- Identify high-risk and low-risk localities—municipalities and areas in New Jersey that have worse or better maternal health outcomes than expected, given the socioeconomic status and healthcare resources of the community—overall and by race and ethnicity.
Additionally, the team will seek out local policy solutions that help ensure safe, healthy motherhood by examining the differences in local laws and regulations in the domains of land use (zoning), transportation, housing, buildings, public safety, social and health services, parks and recreation, smoking, alcohol, drug-free zones, and pollution.
The grant also includes a mentorship component. Muchomba’s research mentor on this project is Nancy Reichman, Professor of Pediatrics at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and his career mentor is Joel Cantor, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
The award is part of RWJF’s Policies for Action (P4A) signature research program to support early-career researchers to better understand and find solutions that will promote health equity and foster action on policies and laws that ensure all people can attain and preserve good health and well-being. Since 2015, P4A has awarded over $15 million for research identifying policies, laws, and other system and community levers in the public and private sectors that can support RWJF’s vision, working with others, to build a Culture of Health.