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Melissa Hanna

Follow me into the world of Melissa Hanna, a black woman changing the outlook of health with technology

By Fatimah B

Melissa Hanna is exactly what you pictured, a warm and friendly personality that instantly engages you. But don’t let the charming beauty deceive you from realizing that underneath the mass of curls lies a brain equipped with a JD (law), and an MBA to boot.

Hanna is known for pioneering “the world-class maternity programs at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente” but understood that the opportunity to digitize her work could “fundamentally change the structure of health care in this country.”

Melissa Hanna: A Force to Reckon With

A few months ago Hanna’s company, Mahmee, closed a $3 million funding round that included the likes of Tennis star, Serene Williams and billionaire, Mark Cuban.

Hanna and her mother, Linda, co-founded Mahmee, a digital game changer in the maternity health care field. The company “uses predictive analytics to provide personalized, on-demand support to new mothers and infants.”

Members can book their appointments in-home and virtual, which makes the system quite convenient for new mothers. Mahmee’s professional network is increasing rapidly, where a range of highly qualified professionals are available. These include “registered nurses, board-certified lactation consultants, registered dietitians, certified massage therapists, sleep trainers, emotional wellness counsellors, and more.”

Hanna has made sure to create a system that works proactively with “a private messaging hotline, online support groups led by experts, and a personalized dashboard of content and advice that evolves with mom and baby through every age and stage.” These tools and features make Mahmee the ultimate solution in post-natal homecare, especially during those critical 6 weeks post-delivery. She recognized a major gap in maternity care after the typical 48-72 hour mandatory hospital discharge and confirmed these via studies that indicate early discharge can negatively affect both mother and new-born. The data also confirms a trend  in Western countries “to shorten the postpartum length of stay in hospital driven by cost containment, hospital bed availability and a movement toward ‘demedicalisation’ of childbirth.”

The Story behind the Story

How did Hanna develop such a valuable and revolutionary idea? “Mahmee embodies the legacy of my mother’s work. I realized her approach created much better outcomes for everyone involved in the maternal care journey. I told her that it should be happening at scale and technology is the solution.”

Apparently the United States have the worst record regarding maternal death rates of any developed country – some 700 mothers due annually with another 50 000 “becoming severely injured.”

You have to wonder why these issues weren’t addressed before. It’s not like the early days where women had to fight for the vote, fight to gain a job that was not “secretary” or decide she could have both a career and a family, right? Unfortunately, while we have come a long way, old prejudices die hard and women are still treated as inferior in many environments.

In bringing this issue up, Hanna not only shines the spotlight on the inadequacies in maternal healthcare but also dares to point out that this isn’t a priority. Think about this: our mothers are dying or becoming seriously ill due to poor maternal healthcare policies, and though many emphasize we can’t find long-term solutions that can turn these stats around, we’re trying to plan a human mission to Mars… Boggles the mind!

How Melissa Hanna Faced Her Challenge

The struggle to be taken seriously is another issue Hanna came up against, “one of the challenges underrepresented founders, like myself, are facing today is we don’t have the typical backgrounds compared with the previous generation of founders in Silicon Valley. We don’t fit into the San Francisco, Palo Alto white boys club.”

Ouch, but absolutely true. Apparently, Hanna was questioned relentlessly about her background, qualifications and credentials. This isn’t an unusual phenomenon –many female entrepreneurs of color face an extraordinary amount of discrimination within the tech industry. Exactly what portion of capital designated for start-ups are awarded to black women? “0006% of the $424.7 billion in total tech venture funding raised since 2009,” according to Project Diane.

Hanna recalls a fundraising meeting she attended a few years ago. During her pitch to a largely male group of investors, a senior investor began questioning her law degree where she had received a full scholarship. “He made it difficult for me to pitch to the rest of the group, and the other men, because he was older, they didn’t say anything or stop it from happening,” she said. 

An article in Business Insider coined it perfectly: “transactional inequality among capital gatekeepers toward minority entrepreneurs.” 

Instead of letting stereotypes and prejudices weigh her down, Hanna powered through to co-create a valuable, relevant and desperately needed organisation that has the power to make great waves in the healthcare industry. Much like her peers breaking through pre-defined molds and stereotypes, Hanna ensures her organisation represent diversity in every department.

Women’s Voices are the Thing

In fact, according to Hanna, “Pipeline Angels has brought even more women’s voices to the table: 46% of the group that invested in us are women of color, 15% Black women.”

Ultimately, Hanna’s work covers many issues politicians prefer to avoid. Her reasons for doing this, at the most basic, are a blend of gender and race equality meets the desire to safeguard women at their most vulnerable.

“In the maternity healthcare process, on the surface there are generally three or four people involved: The mother, the baby, and each of their physicians. We don’t see the many other people helping them: Nurses, lactation consultants, midwives, nutritionists, therapists, doulas, home health aides, social workers, and more. This industry is lacking the IT infrastructure needed to connect these professionals, and to monitor patients across practices and health systems. This creates gaps in care. Mahmee is the glue that connects the care ecosystem and closes the gaps.”

Melissa Hanna and Mahmee are going places – watch this space!

Images Courtesy: The Helm; Business Insider

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