Christiana Verdelus named the inaugural winner of the Ali Family Memorial Writing Prize

July 9, 2024

Recent graduate Christiana Verdelus (MPP ‘24) has won the inaugural Ali Family Memorial Writing Prize for her work, “Why Michigan's Certificate of Need Law Must be Repealed to Improve Black Maternal Health.”

Verdelus’s paper addresses the problem of racial disparities in maternal mortality and other birth outcomes with a focus on Michigan, where rates of maternal mortality and infant mortality are significantly higher among Black women and birthing people. Verdelus argues that Michigan regulations regarding “certificate of need” for new health care facilities, including freestanding birthing centers with midwifery services, must be reformed to increase access to culturally sensitive and high-quality maternal care.

The faculty review committee found Verdelus’s policy paper to be strong across the review criteria, including the strength of the writing and arguments, the underlying research and analysis, and the potential for publication or use in policy discourse.

“We received 30 submissions for the inaugural Ali Family Memorial Prize for writing related to health policy,” said Professor Paula Lantz, who chaired the review committee. “We are grateful that this new writing prize offers the opportunity for Ford School students to showcase their interests and expertise in such an important area of public policy.”

Verdelus initially encountered the regulatory barrier during her internship with the advocacy coalitions, Birth Detroit and Michigan State of Birth Justice. Leveraging her economics coursework, she was able to take an interdisciplinary approach to analyze the law’s effect on access, affordability, innovation, and Black maternal health.

“We often talk about Black maternal health in terms of a 'crisis,' which can make the issue seem too big or out of our control,” Verdelus said. “I wanted to show that the state of Black maternal health is solvable and that advancing Black maternal health equity is within our reach. In fact, there are many avenues we can, and should, take, including policy reforms like repealing Michigan's Certificate of Need Law.”

Verdelus recently accepted a position with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) where she anticipates working on policy related to the health plans offered on the Marketplace and the essential health benefits. The views Verdelus presented in her award-winning paper are her own.

“Black women are more than mere statistics and we refuse to be passive bystanders to our own mortality,” Verdelus said. “We deserve safety, dignity, and joy in our pregnancies and birthing experiences, as well as in our daily lives. It's time to build a healthcare system and society that fully recognizes and supports these fundamental rights.”

About the Ali Family Memorial Writing Prize

The Ali Family Memorial Prize is awarded annually to a Ford School student or group of students for written work that researches, analyzes, or contributes to a further understanding of health-related policy concerns. The prize was established with a gift from associate professor of practice Javed Ali and his sister Meher Ali to honor their parents, Dr. Shafqat and Dr. Zaheda Ali. Dr. Shafqat and Dr. Ali were born in India and spent their lives as medical professionals practicing in New York and Great Britain before settling in southeast Michigan in the early 1970s.