During Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17), advocates and health professionals from across the U.S. raised alarms surrounding the need for equity and investments toward Black mothers and birthing people.
North Carolina advocates and health care professionals from across the state have called for policy changes that would center increased resources, investments in midwifery and doula care, and awareness of maternal health disparities.
Throughout the week, the state Department of Health and Human Services held a special screening of the WRAL Documentary “Critical Term: Why are Black mothers and babies dying”, which covered systemic racism plaguing Black maternal health care, misconceptions, and how myths, particularly about racial bias is still taught to healthcare providers in the modern era.
According to WRAL’s reporting, the maternal death rate in the U.S. is higher than in all other wealthy countries, with North Carolina ranking the 10th worst state for infant deaths.
An analysis by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers found that from 2017 to 2019, Black women made up a disproportionate one-third of maternal deaths and were more likely to die of cardiac and coronary problems.
More than 80 percent of these deaths are preventable, according to data collected from Maternal Mortality Review Committees.
“We have to think about on the ground, what’s going on in clinics, in offices, in hospitals,” said Dr. Doee Kitessa, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Having conversations where people are asked to think about: ‘What are my own biases? How does that impact the patients that I’m caring for on a regular basis?’”
Reporting by USA Today found that the South, where more than half of the nation’s Black population resides, has seen significant labor, delivery, and hospital closures throughout its rural communities.
In North Carolina, rural hospital financial insecurity and closures are not unfamiliar, as more than six have closed in the eastern region of the state since 2010.
While rural women in general have a higher maternal mortality risk, rural Black women are at a disproportionately higher risk.
“To improve the rate of maternal mortality in the United States we must improve readiness, recognition, and response to the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths,” Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Ochsner Kenner in Louisiana told USA Today.
Democratic Reps. Alma Adams (N.C.) and Lauren Underwood (Ill.), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have introduced resolutions to encourage Congress to enact legislation to address racial disparities for Black birthing people; recommending policies that would invest in economic support, community-driven solutions to better understand causes of maternal death and complications from birth and increase health care access to Black communities.