New Hanover County employees work to address maternal health in Black women

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Maternal health is important for all soon to be moms, but studies show black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related issues and most of those deaths are preventable.

When it comes to women dying from childbirth, it seems like a problem in another time but it is still very much an issue in the 21st century.

“I had eclampsia, I didn’t even have preeclampsia and I almost died. Myself and my baby,” said Tufanna Bradley, assistant county manager for New Hanover County.

Bradley is just one of a growing number of Black women who either faced serious complications before, during, or after childbirth.

She also works with Fawn Rhodes, who is the health and human services equity coordinator for the county. Together Bradley and Rhodes are raising awareness for Black maternal health.

“Its a racial issue, you know that, at the end of the day,” said Rhodes.

The National Institute of Health recognizes that structural racism can have negative outcomes for minorities. Things like limited access to maternal healthcare due to impoverished neighborhoods, or even a lack of diversity in the healthcare system.

“One of the things that we do know for a fact is that New Hanover County does not have a Black female, OB-GYN, or a Black male OB-GYN here in New Hanover County. So, as we bring more awareness, maybe this will bring someone to see this article or see this news report and say, hey, I’d like to move to New Hanover County and be that OB-GYN,” said Rhodes.

Both women said that simply strengthening doctor, patient relationships can help prevent health issues. They said although there are many great health care providers in the area, representation matters.

‘”Representation when it comes to maternal health care, and when it comes to healthcare, in general, people sometimes get better service when it comes to someone that they can identify and make a connection with,” said Rhodes.

Yet a new hire in the area would only fix part of the problem, a group effort from women who have dealt with similar issues as Bradley is needed to create widespread change.

“So we need you to use your voice to speak on behalf of you and to be as hard and as passionate like I am not feeling good. My stomach is not feeling good. My baby’s not feeling good. Use whatever language that you need at that moment because we need you to survive,” said Rhodes.

Bradley and Rhodes are encouraging women to speak up and advocate for themselves. They said asking questions and knowing your families history can sometimes make all the difference.

Both women said the county is set to hold a maternal health conversation that will allow women to share their stories. They hope that starting the conversation will help bridge the gap between doctor patient relationships

Bradley and Rhodes also said that they hope to develop a health equity council that will be able to address community needs. The council will also specifically focus on black maternal health.

Bradley and Rhodes said that the passing of Olympic athlete Tori Bowie is what lead the county to make a change.

Bowie, passed away earlier this year in May while in pre-term labor because of pregnancy related issues.

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