Ria Rodney, Director of Nurture NJ, the initiative that aims to make New Jersey the safest and most equitable place in the nation to deliver and raise a baby.
What drew you to this role as the first Director of Nurture NJ?
I’m a nurse with an educational background in social work, and I’m also a doula. I always say the political is personal. Two of my very close friends almost died due to childbirth-related causes. One friend was in a coma after the birth of her first child. The hardest thing was learning that incidents like these can be prevented. I feel so passionate about how I can use all my training and experience as a clinician to reach more mothers and help more families avoid these terrible situations.
Your role is to implement the Nurture NJ Strategic Plan. What are the greatest challenges in turning these recommendations into real change that impacts lives?
The Nurture NJ strategic plan has nine action areas for change and improvement. For me, it’s taking a living, breathing document, and really prioritizing. Who are the key stakeholders? What have we already accomplished? How can we make things better? It’s about leveraging systems to create change. As we learn more about the needs of our communities, our plans and interventions also grow. I am thankful to Governor Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy for energizing the focus on this entire area.
I just want to say I love the MAP. It takes a comprehensive strategic plan and narrows it down into four areas of action. For instance, use and collection of data; reforming our payment system; improving community-based social supports; creating the workforce for the future. The focus is clear on what areas need improvement and how to drive that improvement. If we were to talk about improving community-based social supports, we know that we can use shared decision making — because that’s evidence-based. Consumers can go to Connecting NJ because it’s a single point hub where they can get all their referrals for resources in their community. The MAP is user-friendly and very community focused.
What changes in the perinatal health care workforce are most needed?
We have grown the number of midwives in our state, and we now have more continuing education and training available to our midwives. We have seen an increase in all perinatal health care workers across the board. We also have increased the number of community health workers — these are the folks on the ground connecting consumers to resources. And moving forward, we’re continuing to strengthen our perinatal workforce through implicit bias training and strengthening partnerships between doulas and our hospitals.
Finally, we do like to ask a question that is outside the scope of your professional work. Who is your favorite New Jersey artist, writer, actor, singer, etc.?
I have to say Whitney Houston. She is the ultimate pop icon, and I’m so proud to know that she is a Jersey girl. She’s just all the style and glamour. I love her so much. And, also, I love the Fugees.