‘A Call to Action:’ Discussing maternal health disparities in black women

From brooklyneagle.com

A 17-person panel featuring medical and legal experts, as well as elected officials, came together this past Friday morning at Brooklyn Law School for a roundtable discussion entitled “A Call to Action on Maternal Health Disparities” to discuss maternal health disparities facing Black expectant mothers. 

The roundtable was hosted by the law school and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, chair of the Kings County Democratic Party. 

Main topics addressed were proper training of hospital staff and preventive medicine. 

This discussion comes as the infant mortality rate has risen for the first time in two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (It shot up 3% in 2022.)

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, chair of the Kings County Democratic Party; and Brooklyn Law School Dean David Meyer. Eagle photos by Wayne Daren Schneiderman

And according to the New York State Taskforce on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes, Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women (51.6 deaths to 15.9 per 100,000 live births, respectively).

“There is a crisis,” Bichotte Hermelyn told the Brooklyn Eagle. “In America, and in the state of New York, where the maternal mortality rate is high — especially among Black women. The disparities are alarming, and Black women and Black babies are dying.”

But Bichotte Hermelyn pointed out that “We are here today to talk about solutions. In the past, we’ve seen statistics and reports. But what are the next steps? Today is about a call to action. We have the experts and the stakeholders here — so what are we going to do?  We’re going to take these solutions to Albany, to City Hall, to Washington and to the hospitals!”  

Moderator Rona Taylor. Eagle photos by Wayne Daren Schneiderman

Panelist Dr. Wayne Riley, who serves as the president of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, spoke on the subject of training.

“You sometimes assume that certain health professionals get it, and sometimes that can be a mistake,” Riley said. “And so I have been very intentional about making sure we build a team that understands that this is a problem — through training. You would think all doctors know that Black maternal mortality morbidity is a problem – but unfortunately they do not.” 

Dr. Wendy Wilcox, chief women’s health service officer at NYC Health + Hospitals, also spoke about training — specifically embedding it into the core curriculum of medical students — as early as possible. 

“That would be a good starting point,” she said.  

However, Monika Safford, a clinician-investigator with clinical expertise in preventive health care, explained that training is simply not enough. 

“Preventive medicine is key, along with working on the diversity of our health care workforce,” Safford said.  

“Staff must reflect the community we serve,” according to Dr. Daniel Faustin, who is an obstetrician-gynecologist in Brooklyn, New York, affiliated with Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. “Every patient should be treated the same way — this cannot be stated strongly enough. We also need to be preparing people before things happen. The prevention part must be built into the care.” 

Susan Crummiller, founding attorney of Crummiller PC, a feminist litigation firm that represents victims of employment discrimination and sexual abuse, said that “white people have, I think, and I’m speaking very generally here, difficulty confronting Black people’s pain. I think we really want to avoid it; it’s uncomfortable for us.”  

And rounding out the program, Dr. Leslie Hayes, deputy commissioner of the Division of Family and Child Health at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who focuses on providing quality healthcare in underserved New York City communities, noted that while training is important, it’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, chair of the Kings County Democratic Party. Eagle photos by Wayne Daren Schneiderman

“For the first 31 years of my professional career, I was on the front line doing direct patient care — teaching residents, and other health professionals about medicine and how to deliver care,” Hayes said. “And I did that because I was committed to making sure that underserved individuals had the best care possible. So yes, training is important – but it is not the be-all, end-all.”  

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