Not long ago, Ariana McGee walked away from her senior position at a large medical device company to devote herself to her passion project. Her mission is simple: Save moms and babies.
McGee’s new venture, Navigate Maternity, will allow medical providers to remotely monitor key physical and psychological metrics through a patient’s pregnancy and up to one year postpartum. In particular, the period between childbirth and the mother’s first postnatal appointment is critical, yet often ignored.
“That’s 42 days without being touched,” explains McGee. “If something goes wrong, no one would know.”
The data overwhelmingly supports a need for this type of care. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-resource nation, while Indiana ranks third in the country. Additionally, Black women are impacted three to four times more than white women. What disturbs McGee most, however, is that although 84% of these deaths are preventable, the death rate has more than doubled since 1986.
“That means it was safer for my mother to have me in 1990 than it was for me to have my daughter,” says McGee.
Beyond facts and figures, McGee can speak from personal experience. She became pregnant with her third child during the pandemic. Even as a high-risk mom, she received minimal attention because of COVID restrictions. She wondered how her doctor would know if something went wrong.
When pregnant with her fourth child, McGee went into labor two days before her scheduled C-section. Although she was at high risk for a uterine rupture, an on-call doctor tried to send her home and even threatened to call security when McGee wouldn’t leave. She only received the care she needed after she tracked down her obstetrician.
“When they finally examined me, I had a uterine window so thin you could see my daughter’s hair through it,” says McGee. “My doctor told me that if I had gone home, I could have died and my baby definitely would have.”
These two experiences coalesced into a new purpose for McGee. They showed her the cracks in the U.S. health care system and how easily people can fall through them. McGee’s story had a happy ending because she had knowledge and resources to be persistent, including her attorney mother who fiercely advocated for her in the moment. She wondered what would happen to women in less fortunate circumstances. Leaving her career to create a solution became an easy decision.
“I always believe that God will put you in situations so that you have the fire to go forward and change things,” says McGee.
Today McGee serves as chief executive officer for Navigate Maternity. The Navigate team is also led by Dr. Elicia Harris and Theadora James, the company’s chief medical officer and chief operating officer, respectively. These women share the same passion for ensuring equitable care for birthing mothers, particularly those in vulnerable populations.
“They are my right and left hand,” says McGee.
Navigate Maternity’s product is a kit that includes a Bluetooth scale and blood pressure cuff. The biometric data flows into an interactive application that also monitors key markers of mental and social determinants of health. It has been designed to integrate into electronic health record systems. Additionally, the blood pressure cuff has been cleared and validated in pregnant and preeclamptic women by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Class II device.
McGee and her team engaged physicians and providers from the start. Through surveys, interviews and beta testing, they have created a product that monitors and communicates what matters most. They believe they’ve gotten it right.
“Many OBs are looking for this kind of product,” says McGee. “They’ve been looking for a way to help manage this population.”
Through Navigate Maternity, the patient’s care team receives an alert whenever her markers fall outside an acceptable range. The product offers birthing moms a safety net at times when they are otherwise not closely monitored.
Though it will be available to everyone, McGee and her team want this product to make a difference particularly to those who are typically most vulnerable: Black and Brown women, Medicaid recipients and women in rural areas. Frequently, these women are not being heard, live in maternal care deserts, and have access to low quality health care services
as a result of income, location and demographic background.
McGee and her team will take their product to market this summer, when they work with a partner on a soft launch. They expect it to become fully available by the second quarter of 2024. Already, Navigate Maternity has created a strong support base, as many of the company’s investors have been physicians. In addition, McGee recently received the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s first Pioneer Award honoring innovation and entrepreneurship.
“It was a really great experience to be honored in my own community, but also to see that what we are doing has resonated and that people realize there’s a problem,” says McGee. “We’re just trying to save moms and babies.”
Products & Services: Navigate Maternity pairs FDA-cleared medical devices with an intuitive reporting interface to empower care teams to remotely monitor prenatal and postpartum moms. The system integrates real-time biometric data monitoring, virtual mental health screening, and social determinants of health checkpoints to deliver care during and after pregnancy.