AtlantiCare hosts Murphy to detail delivery of ‘Safe Beginnings’

Inspired by the first lady's Nurture NJ, program seeks to improve maternal, infant health in Atlantic City

Jessica Perry//July 17, 2023//

From left, First Ladies Rose Dunleavy, of Alaska; Tammy Murphy, of New Jersey; Abby Palmer Cox of Utah; and Susan McKee of Rhode Island pose with the Safe Beginnings automobile. - ATLANTICARE

From left, Rose Dunleavy, Tammy Murphy, Abby Palmer Cox and SusanMcKee pose with the Safe Beginnings automobile.

AtlantiCare hosts Murphy to detail delivery of ‘Safe Beginnings’

Inspired by the first lady's Nurture NJ, program seeks to improve maternal, infant health in Atlantic City

Jessica Perry//July 17, 2023//

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As Atlantic City welcomed the National Governors Association last week, First Lady Tammy Murphy spent time at AtlantiCare with other spouses of state leaders for a discussion about how the health care provider is delivering Safe Beginnings in the city for expectant and new mothers as well as their families.

Along with the first ladies of Alaska, Rhode Island and Utah, Murphy visited the health care provider’s Medical Arts Pavilion July 12 for a discussion about the system’s prenatal, postnatal and preventative care program, AtlantiCare announced at the end of last week.

The Safe Beginnings event was hosted in the building where it is based, and also featured health care providers, program participants and partners of the effort.

Among the topics of discussion were:

  • Factors increasing the risk of maternal and infant mortality, including access to resources, being uninsured or underinsured, lack of transportation, food and housing insecurity, and other issues;
  • The fact that Black women are at higher risk of pregnancy and postpartum complications, regardless of income, age, educational level and other factors;
  • How to leverage experts and resources, meet families where they are, and taking a holistic approach to care are essential elements to ensuring wellbeing of families.


“As we gather for the final convening of my time as Chair of the National Governors Association Spouses’ Program, it is wonderful to show my fellow spouses just some of the work we have been able to accomplish here in New Jersey,” said Murphy. “The AtlantiCare team has been partners of my Nurture NJ initiative since the beginning, and I am so proud to highlight their work here today.”

Taking place a day before its release, the NGA spouses group attended the event as part of Murphy’s unveiling of the “Creating a National Model to Tackle the Maternal and Infant Health Crisis” policy roadmap that pairs with Gov. Phil Murphy’s yearlong NGA Chair’s Initiative, “Strengthening Youth Mental Health: A Governor’s Playbook.

The report is an expansion of the first lady’s state-based Nurture NJ initiative, which was the inspiration for Safe Beginnings, according to AtlantiCare.

Sound starts

Safe Beginnings was launched in 2021 through a $1.3 million New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority grant, which was followed by an additional award of $134,244 in 2022. That year, more than 100 women took part, and according to AtlantiCare the initiative continues to grow.

The program convenes a team – including a neonatologist, a certified nurse midwife, certified doulas, registered nurses, a social worker, a peer specialist and other members from AtlantiCare’s Women’s and Children’s Services – to coordinate care for women and babies during pregnancy and afterward in the critical period that follows leading up to a child’s first birthday.

Regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, Safe Beginnings is open to women and families in Atlantic City no matter where they plan to or have given birth.

Making the grade

“I feel like I’ve had a village caring for my baby, my family and me,” Teela Grayson commented of care AtlantiCare has provided before, during and after the birth of her third child last August.

Take a closer look at this Atlantic City teacher’s “A+” experience with Safe Beginnings, in this blog post.

Additionally, the program’s Neonatal Intensive Care Transition of Care Clinic provides continued specialized services for babies who need specialized care after they leave the AtlantiCare Center for Childbirth’s Level III NICU, according to the health care provider.

Central to the Safe Beginnings effort is outreach: members of the team venture out to visit mothers and families at their homes, or other places in the community, using a program vehicle so that they can meet patients where it is most convenient for them. The program also helps ensure that families have access to the equipment they need, providing car seats, strollers, bassinettes and more, and celebratory support.

Safe Beginnings holds quarterly baby showers, celebrations and other activities, typically featuring an educational component in addition to support from community partners, AtlantiCare said, to bring women together for shared experiences.

“It is our privilege to provide the comprehensive care and services so critical to giving moms, babies and families a healthy start,” said Sandra Garrett, assistant vice president, Women’s and Children’s Services at AtlantiCare. “We are grateful to our community partners and for our dedicated AtlantiCare team, who ensure we make a difference for families throughout our participants’ pregnancies through their babies’ first birthdays – and beyond.”

Egg Harbor Township-based AtlantiCare is an integrated health care system. Its more than 6,000 staff, providers and volunteers serve the community in over 100 locations in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May and Ocean counties.

Nurturing improvements

Together, the Murphys’ respective NGA initiatives convened nearly 500 people in four nationwide cohorts, according to the governor’s office.

The playbook, which functions as a toolkit for immediate and long-term change, highlights 32 policy recommendations, many of which “work to address the significant discriminatory policies and practices embedded in organizational structures that lead to disparities in maternal health outcomes.”

It focuses on four main pillars:

  • Centering Women’s Voices in Maternal Health Policy
  • Improving and Utilizing Maternal Health Data
  • Expanding Access to Quality of Care
  • Elevating Innovative Maternal Health Policies, Programs and Technologies


“As the wealthiest country in the world, every mother and baby across our nation should begin their life together in health, wellness and joy. But tragically that is not the case,” said First Lady Murphy in a July 13 statement. “In fact, the United States has the worst rates of maternal mortality among developed countries, and the gap between rates in the U.S. and other high-income countries is only widening.”

In New Jersey, Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ initiative has sought to reverse that course. The statewide program is committed to reducing maternal and infant mortality rates in the Garden State and ensuring equitable care for women and children of all races and ethnicities. And since its 2019 launch, the program has shown results. When Phil Murphy entered office in 2018, New Jersey was ranked 45th nationally for maternal health. According to the governor’s office, in 2023, the Garden State has jumped to 29th.

Detailing Nurture NJ’s accomplishments, the governor’s office cited the creation of a statewide strategic plan, 17 statewide Family Festivals, using $158 million in state funds, steps to establish a first-of-its-kind Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center in Trenton, and more than 43 pieces of maternal and infant health legislation signed by the governor — a figure subject to change, with Phil Murphy scheduled to sign legislation establishing the New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Authority and Center at the Henry J. Austin Health Center, with Tammy Murphy on hand, during a July 17 ceremony.

Despite local efforts to effect change when it comes to maternal health, nationwide things are getting worse.

At the beginning of July, a study evaluating two decades (1999-2019) of maternal mortality data was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The JAMA report shows American Indian and Alaska Native as well as Black women are at increased risk, particularly in states where inequities had not previously been highlighted. And in a jarring revelation, the second decade of time covered in the report showed dramatic increases, versus decreases over time, in maternal mortality across all five groups studied. That includes in New Jersey, which according to the JAMA report had a more than 93% increase in Black mortality (along with Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas) from 2009-2019.

The United States is an outlier among other wealthy countries worldwide when it comes to maternal health.

Here, the maternal mortality rate is more than three times that of most other high-income countries; on top of that, the rate for Black women in the U.S. is nearly three times higher than for white women, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled by The Commonwealth Fund.

SOURCE: Munira Gunja, Evan Gumas, and Reginald Williams II, “The U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis Continues to Worsen: An International Comparison,” To the Point (blog), Commonwealth Fund, Dec. 1, 2022.

Improving care

Recently, New Jersey health care providers have been recognized for their services in the maternal health space, and received funding to continue improvements.