NCQA Torda Fellow Elevates
Birth Equity

November 28, 2022 · Andy Reynolds

By the time she became a Phyllis Torda Health Care Quality and Equity Fellow this year, Whitney Graves, PhD, MPH, had already established her expertise in specific aspects of health equity.

As a Research Associate at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), she spent years studying:

  • Intimate partner violence.
  • Youth violence prevention.
  • Maternal health and behaviors.
  • Perinatal health services utilization.

“The intersection of health services research and violence prevention spurred my interest in exploring the role of social factors in health and health care across the life span,” she says.

Her VCU dissertation analyzed how social risks relate to women’s use of mental health services. Exploring the relationship between adverse childhood experiences, intimate partner violence and discrimination, she found that increased exposure to these social risks leads to increased use of care.

“That got me thinking in terms of access,” recalls Whitney. “It’s important for us to know who’s getting through the door. But it’s just as important for us to understand what’s happening on the other side.”

Working for Birth Equity

As a Torda Fellow, Whitney works with leaders and scientists at NCQA and the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC) to understand and improve birth equity.

The NCQA-NBEC project, “Birth Equity Accountability through Measurement (BEAM),” addresses the ongoing maternal health crisis. “We’ve heard a lot in the news about the widening disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality,” Whitney says. “We’re looking at ways to improve the quality of care by creating a measurement strategy to promote birth equity.”

(The partnership is also a reunion: After NBEC President Joia Crear-Perry wowed us with her terrific 2020 Quality Talk, we knew we wanted to work with NBEC again.)

BEAM’s first step is to conduct an environmental scan and collect stakeholder voices to develop a birth equity framework. “We are incorporating the voices of patients, providers and other advocates to ensure we’re considering what’s most important, and to whom, especially the care experiences of historically marginalized groups, such as Black birthing people,” Whitney says.

In an encouraging sign that many quality advocates see maternal health equity as a quality priority, diverse funders united to fund the BEAM’s first phase: the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the California Health Care Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Disparities in Perinatal Telehealth

Outside BEAM, Whitney is exploring disparities in the use of telehealth for prenatal and postpartum care during the pandemic. That work considers the intersection of telehealth and:

  • Race.
  • Place.
  • Partner abuse.

Whitney notes that her work as a Torda Fellow “impacts the health and well-being not only of birthing patients, but also [of] children, families and communities. As we make advancements in care delivery, I want my work to amplify the importance of considering equity.”

The Torda Fellowship is a training ground for quality leaders from diverse backgrounds. Fellows spend a full year with NCQA, contributing to ongoing research and working on projects critical to health care quality. They are mentored by NCQA senior staff and have access to NCQA-led education.

The Torda Fellowship celebrates the life and work of Phyllis Torda, who was an NCQA leader from 1995–2015. An enthusiastic champion for change, Phyllis’ work for better health care and better health included promoting electronic health records and new strategies and methodologies for physician measurement.

Whitney is one of two rising stars selected for the NCQA Torda Fellowship in 2022. In September, we blogged about Portia Buchongo, our other Torda Fellow.

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