Black maternal mortality rates can be lowered with better access to health care

Serena Williams. Allyson Felix. Kira Johnson. All three vibrant, successful, and previously healthy black women experienced severe complications during childbirth. Maternal death is the death of a woman during pregnancy and up to six weeks after pregnancy from “causes related to or aggravated by the pregnancy.” Major causes of these deaths include heavy bleeding (Johnson bled for hours internally following a routine cesarean section and died) infection, preeclampsia and eclampsia, complications from delivery and an unsafe abortion.

The U.S. is failing women of child-bearing age. In 2020, the World Health Organization reported the U.K. had a maternal mortality rate of 9.8 deaths per every 100,000 births, less than half the rate of the U.S. In 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Black women experience a maternal mortality rate of 69.9/100,000 births — almost three times the rate of non-Hispanic white women. Black women experience greater difficulty accessing care, encounter health care providers who are biased, and incur higher stress due to structural racism.

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Investment in the perinatal workforce is critical to address poor access to care. More than 2.2 million women live in maternity care deserts, which can be defined as a county without any birth center or obstetrical provider. When Black women can access maternal health services, they are often met with implicit bias which can affect the quality of their care.

Expanding the perinatal workforce to include more persons of color, and requiring health care providers to complete training on implicit bias could narrow the gap in maternal mortality.

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act aims to improve maternity care access as well as increase the number of perinatal health care providers, via the establishment of grants to increase clinical and non-clinical perinatal providers and promote culturally competent maternity care. The act also provides funding to study the barriers preventing women in underserved communities from obtaining employment in perinatal health care.

We must create space for Black women where they feel empowered to speak up about their care, know their concerns matter, and see expressions of their own lived experience if we have any hope at closing the maternal mortality gap.

Audrey Killarney Peri, registered nurse, clinical practice consultant, Rush University Medical Group

Kindness of strangers

Thanks to the Sun-Times for devoting an editorial to the two good Samaritans who rescued a woman dangling from an L train track.  In this troubled world, it is uplifting to be reminded that there still are people who will rush to the aid of strangers in distress.

I’m 88 and have a bum leg.  I still drive and can get around with a cane.  Mostly, I use a walker because I move faster, but getting it in and out of the trunk is always a struggle.  I’ve lost track of how many folk walking or driving by in a parking lot have stopped to ask, “Do you need a little help?”  My stock answer: “I need a lot of help.”

Then there are the folks who see me coming and hold a door open for me.  I told my wife, “When I was in better shape, I always used to hold the door for the ladies.  Now I have ladies holding the door for me.”  She said, “Think of it as a senior perk.”

Dan McGuire, Bensenville

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