Lamaze International has announced Dr. Andrea J. Boudreaux, FACHE, will take the organization’s helm as chief executive officer on November 1, 2020. Linda Harmon, who has served Lamaze International for nearly 30 years, will retire on October 31, 2020. Read this exclusive Q&A and get to know Dr. Boudreaux.
What inspired you to pursue a career in healthcare?
I wanted to be a doctor from my childhood. I initially wanted to be a heart surgeon, and planned to create an artificial heart so that I could save lives without having to take a life. My maternal grandfather had a massive heart attack and died and I wanted to save others from the pain my family experienced. I studied Biomedical Engineering early in my college studies to help me understand how to build things, but there was a different plan that God had for me.
I think I have been a diversity and equity advocate my entire life. I recognized that heart disease was killing more people who looked like me. I went to more funerals than any child/teenager/young adult should have experienced. I knew I needed to do something about it.
As I reflect on my career in mental health, I realize that similar to heart disease, so many in my family and my friends’ families had suffered. You hear so often, “there aren’t enough Black doctors,” and certainly this area was one that I found a special calling. Depression is a silent killer in the Black community. I worked with so many children and adolescents who struggled to open up about their pain. I recall one patient who was assigned to me because of his home of origin being similar to mine, and he felt that I was still so different. I remember being excited when I “finally got through” to one patient because I would meet him at a community center, and we would play basketball during his session. He was quiet in my office, but when I put a basketball in his hands, he never stopped talking. Over the course of my time in practice, I grew frustrated with the barriers I faced delivering quality care to those in need. I decided to move into administration and corporate healthcare. I needed be able to fix all the things that were barriers to my practice for others. So every day that I miss my practice, I think about the work that I am doing to make sure that other doctors can practice and I feel a sense of satisfaction.
In what ways have you contributed to improved healthcare for women and children?
Well, I think the obvious response is that I was a pediatric psychologist for almost 10 years. Every child who came to see me, every mother (father, grandparent, aunt, uncle and friend) of each of the children I saw in practice would (at least I hope) say that Dr. Boudreaux saved my life.
I started off in general clinical psychology. I treated children and adolescents for typical pediatric illnesses like depression, anxiety, Autism Spectrum, and a host of others from the then DSM IV.As I mentioned before though, I wanted to be a surgeon. I was drawn to pursue a specialty in medicine. While I didn’t necessarily want to prescribe pills and diagnose things like ADD/ADHD, I thought, there has to be more. I applied to an advanced residency where I was trained in the hospital’s endocrinology clinic. I saw patients with Type I Diabetes, and had amazing medical outcomes. I often say that I have found a cure for Type I, I just need an endocrinologist to join me. In our clinic, my patients’ HgbA1c went from an average of 14 to 6.3 in one year. What we saw was that integrating behavioral and allopathic treatment was the key. Less than 10% of my patients in that clinic had a diagnosis of a mental illness when began working with me. However, we used my clinical training to understand their challenges with their diabetes care regimen. We found barriers to their following the endocrinologist’s orders and saw significant outcomes.
When I finished my residency, I was sure that this was the type of care I wanted to practice. I knew that depression was a real threat, but I was excited about what I was going to do. I thought, I might not be a surgeon, but I was going to fight heart disease.
I worked in oncology, fertility, and bariatric clinics alongside specialists to improve medical outcomes. However, we found so many barriers to my being in the practice. Medical psychology is a relatively new area, and not recognized in most states. I needed to fix that so that more practices could get doctors like me for their patients.
I thought that by moving into administration and corporate healthcare I would be able to touch many more lives. Over the course of my career, I’ve opened practices across the country that allowed more women and children access to care. I have been an advocate for policy change and worked alongside federal and state officials to change law and drive the change we need. I provided pro-bono clinical services for churches in minority communities to reach people who were seeking counseling from their church.
I worked to expand resources for communities with high populations of Black and Brown children to ensure that they had access to the care they needed. Today, I volunteer with organizations that support Black girls moving into the healthcare field.
What are you most looking forward to as the new CEO of Lamaze?
Lamaze is uniquely positioned to drive significant change in the outcomes for mothers and babies across the globe, as we are truly Lamaze International. Maternal and fetal mortality rates are still rising. In fact, in the African American community, they are higher today than the day I was born. This is not ok. I am so excited that our Board agrees with me that we have to do something about this global pandemic. The rates of maternal death in the United States are alarming, but there are countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with double and sometime triple the rates realized in the US. It is absolutely our time to show the great research and education that our evidenced-based practice has accomplished. Communities with Lamaze education have lower rates of maternal mortality, because what we do is the right thing to do! We have to make sure that we are in the right communities. I am excited to be in a position to impact communities that have been marginalized. I am excited to make sure Lamaze educators are recognized as the critical part of maternal health that they are. Finally, I am excited to reduce the disparities in care for women of Color who are suffering. When my mother was pregnant with me, Lamaze was the breathing technique and birthing class that some women in certain areas had access to participate. I am so excited to shift that narrative to being known as a research organization and change agent that will change the world.
How do you plan to shape the future of Lamaze?
Let me correct this question by saying WE will shape the future. My vision, and one I am so happy that this Board shares, is one in which mothers are not dying from pregnancy related complications. We want to close the gap in the rates of Black and Brown mothers dying because they live in obstetric deserts. While I am so excited about our partnership with TOMY, I do not want the toys to be our greatest story. I hope that we can have a seat in history, by shaping legislation that will improve access, resources, and outcomes for mothers and babies. I am so thankful to have been asked to support the passage of HR 4996, The Helping Mom’s Act in the Senate which is a bipartisan bill passed this year in the House of Representatives. I will use this role and my voice to ensure that mothers and babies have every chance to live healthy and happy lives. I want Lamaze to be at every table where the conversation is held, so that educators, doulas, nurses, and midwives are able to bring about the change we need.
What opportunities do you see to help the Lamaze community?
There are so many partnerships that we can develop to help bring about this change. Our programs have been led for the past 60 years by dedicated educators who have stood the test of time and maintained their practices. We need large companies to help us put more of these programs into underserved communities. The healthcare community fights every day to ensure the safety of mothers and babies. When I was the hospital administrator of a woman’s hospital, the NICU was where I would go when I needed inspiration to keep fighting. I couldn’t stop once I saw the first 22 week delivery. We have got to tap into those looking into research opportunities and ensure that mothers understand their bodies, know warning signs, and most importantly how to advocate for themselves. We have got to change the paradigm of dismissing mothers in the ER who are in pain or concern about their babies. Lamaze has the brand and the voice to drive change and improve outcomes. My hope is that in my tenure as Chief Executive Officer, I will be able to increase our voice and our impact on this very important work!