‘I almost died’: Mom uses tech to tackle maternal mortality rate
Indiana’s high maternal mortality rate recently changed the career path of Ariana McGee, a Black mother in Fort Wayne. When she landed in the emergency room within days of her fourth child’s due date, a “very tired on-call doc wouldn’t listen and tried to send me home.” After insisting on a phone call with her obstetrician, an emergency C-section revealed a dangerous thinning of her uterus. “Had I gone home, I would’ve died, and my daughter would’ve died.”
Further angered by stats that show Black mothers are dying three times more than white mothers, McGee decided “to go all-in” on her tech startup that uses real-time data to monitor Black moms at home and connect directly to their doctors.
The U.S. has the highest perinatal (pregnancy plus one year postpartum) mortality rate of any developed country. Indiana’s maternal mortality rate, among the 10 highest nationally, continues to climb.
“Navigate Maternity is laser-focused on serving Black and Brown mothers who absolutely need this kind of product,” says McGee, who is founder and CEO of the Fort Wayne startup. “We’re trying to save mothers from having catastrophic events and dying.”
With 11 years of experience in the medical device and biopharmaceutical industries, McGee is working with a team of other Black women to commercialize the startup’s remote patient monitoring system. The technology includes a wearable cuff that monitors the mother’s blood pressure and heart rate, and a scale also tracks the patient’s weight. The biometric data—three important vitals for pregnant women—are monitored in real-time and recorded via Bluetooth in a patient app and dashboard for the provider.
The system also records social determinants of health data and delivers virtual mental health screenings throughout the pregnancy and post-partum.
“Postpartum depression and suicide are some of the biggest problems postpartum. Making sure a mom is monitored postpartum for mental health and social determinants of health—a mother’s access to healthy food, safe housing—is critical, because all of these things affect outcomes. We’re capturing all of that in one place,” says McGee. “The goal is to understand from a physiological, mental and social standpoint what’s happening with our moms, so care teams have a whole view of what’s happening with their patient and can intervene before a catastrophic event takes place.”
McGee said the platform puts an emphasis on communication.
The Indiana University graduate acknowledges there are competitors in the market, but says they’re mostly in the wellness space.
“The main thing that sets Navigate apart is that we’re going to be an FDA-cleared device, so it will be a clinical tool. Not just another software,” says McGee. “The care team will know, ‘This information is validated, and I can make diagnostic choices from it.’ We will be first to market.”
McGee’s goal is that “this doesn’t cost mothers a dime,” so the startup aims to partner with Medicaid “to make sure this is a covered and accessible device.” The most recent report from the Indiana Maternal Mortality Review Committee shows 75% of the mothers who died had Medicaid coverage at the time of their death.
“Medicaid is the number one payer for childbirth and postpartum care in our country,” says McGee. “This device is not over-the-counter; this would be something the care teams would prescribe per mom and then be covered and paid for by the payer.”
Navigate is working out the details to launch a feasibility study with the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation in Fort Wayne “to understand how our device works in the real world” and fits into the care team’s workflow.
Led by four Black women, including Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elicia Harris, McGee says the team has experienced everything from being “underestimated” to having “amazing folks who have rallied behind us.” But she believes the team’s perspective as black women has impacted the vision for the technology.
“This system was created by Black women in healthcare. I created this company because I was that unheard mother. I think some other players are doing great work, but they haven’t been the patient. I have, and my team has,” says McGee. “Navigate can empower care teams to impact patients and improve their outcomes. We can be part of the solution, prevent catastrophic events and transform the way we give maternal care in our country.”
McGee says the startup’s all-Black female team has experienced everything from being “under-estimated” to having “amazing folks who have rallied behind us.”