Racism In Medicine: Black Moms High Death Rate
By Dianne Anderson
Black moms dying three to four times more than white moms during the birthing process, and Black babies dying over twice as much as white babies before their first birthday, is not a medical mystery for nurse Shamiesha Ebhotemen.
Black health professionals, although distressed, are not surprised.
“The thing is, as a community we are not the ones that caused the problem and we can’t fix the problem. Creating more doulas is helpful, but it’s a band-aid over a bullet hole,” said Ebhotemen, RN, CLE, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Her Story, Inc.
She said the systemic change must start from the top.
Under a new grant in partnership with UCI School of Medicine, specifically the OBGyn and Pediatrics, and the Family Medicine departments through the Office of Minority Health, her Black Pearl Initiative program hopes to be that change.
Through the four-year grant, 40 community members will receive the training they need to become doulas to reach more Black moms free of charge.
Ebhotemen said the need is great, and mothers should feel comfortable with their choice to have their babies at home or in the hospital. One of the main reasons why Black moms and babies are dying at such a high rate is the implicit bias and racism in the system.
“Black mothers are not being listened to in the hospital, and it happens in hospitals because 96% of births in America still happen in hospitals. Staff who are not culturally competent and not providing the care that these patients need and deserve and you have incidents where mothers are dying unnecessarily,” she said.
Among the many high-profile cases and wrongful death suits, she points to the tragic case of Kira Dixon Johnson, who bled internally for ten hours after a C-Section at Cedar Sinai Medical Center. Her husband, Charles Johnson, had begged the staff for hours to do something because blood was in her catheter. She died shortly after in 2016, and since then he has been on a mission to change policy and legislation with https://4kira4moms.com.
She said what happened to Kira has nothing to do with social economic status or education. That case, and many more like it, shows the disparity in mortality has nothing to do with socioeconomic status, education, or even health status.
“It has everything to do with advocacy and education and making sure that you come in with a team that is going to advocate on your behalf,” she said.
She said the doula’s job is to advocate and provide informed consent so the staff and doctors know what the patient wants before they get to the hospital and before anything tragic happens.
In Orange County, she started her nonprofit because there had only been one Black doula available there for the last 20 years.
For the past year, The State of California Department of Health Care Services opened up doula availability for moms on Medi-Cal to provide personal support throughout pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experience. Services must be recommended by a physician or other licensed practitioner.
In the year ahead, her program will train doulas, and also provide mentorship, along with support groups for fathers and teen mothers. She said they have expanded their reach to the community, connecting with Black organizations and Second Baptist Church, where Herstory is a member of the Health Equity for African Americans League (HEAAL) Collective.
For the application process, there will be a screening process as doulas must be readily available because new babies give short notice.
“You have to have a level of commitment and capacity,” she said. “If you are a new mom and trying to be a doula, if you have a good support system you can’t always drop your baby at 3:00 in the morning to go support another mom.”
The program will be keeping up with social media, providing updates on new programs and planning to host various events next year. She expects a lot of growth in their organization and is ready to serve as many as possible.
She applauds UCI for being the most progressive hospital in Orange County when it comes to Black maternal health, and for their efforts at attracting more Black doctors into PRIME LEAD-ABC, a program led by Dr. Candice Taylor Lucas.
She said UCI reached out to her organization to help build capacity.
“They didn’t have to do that, and just wanting to help us to be able to truly support the community with money behind it means a lot,” she said. “They are actually trying to move the needle instead of just spouting out statistics because statistics don’t do anything if you’re putting any work behind it.”
For more information, see https://herstoryinc.org/