Keys to Improving Minority Maternity Care
High-quality health care, patient trust, education and resources serve as key factors for safe, healthy pregnanc
Infant and maternal mortality. Racial biases. Patient mistrust. All are challenges facing minority women as they embark on their journeys into motherhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 700 women die during pregnancy each year. Another 50,000 women have unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery, resulting in short- or long-term health consequences.
Recent studies have shown that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. The preterm birth rate among Black women is 56% higher in Florida and 12% higher in Duval County as compared to other women. Factors such as underlying chronic conditions, racism, implicit bias within the medical community and reduced access to quality health care contribute to these outcomes. UF Health Jacksonville is committed to reducing maternal mortality among minority women.
LaRae C. Brown, MD, FACOG, medical director at UF Health Women’s Specialists – North, specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. Brown highlights the organization’s steps to ensure the best possible outcomes for minority women in pregnancy and delivery.
“Our organization has taken a comprehensive approach to this issue by working closely with I.D.E.A. (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access),” said Brown, who also serves on the group’s executive board. “Formalized training on diversity, equity and inclusion is imperative, as it brings knowledge and awareness to some of the issues minority women face in their fertility, labor and delivery, and pregnancy journey. It also provides robust clinical leadership and review of these outcomes, and also maintains a constant improvement process to combat the trend.”
Self-advocacy and improving minority maternal health
Self-advocacy is more important than ever for minority women, to help ensure they receive adequate health care while they are pregnant. Take professional tennis player Serena Williams, for example. Considered among the greatest tennis players of all time, the 23-time Grand Slam Singles title winner is one of the most recognizable athletes of our time, both on and off the court.
But in January 2018, Williams shared her birthing experience with Vogue magazine four months after giving birth to her first child. As with thousands of Black mothers in the United States, Williams’ pregnancy was traumatic and high-risk. Ultimately, she had to be her own advocate after delivery in order to save her life.
“Serena’s story explicitly underlies some of the challenges minority women face,” Brown said. “Serena is famous. She’s rich. Yet, she is a minority woman with predisposing health conditions, and still, with all of her positives, felt like her voice was not being heard.”
Women must know how to advocate for themselves before, during and after childbirth. But how? An article published on the health and wellness website VeryWellFamily.com suggests that women should ask questions about their treatment and care, get second opinions if curious about alternative options, and maintain sound support systems.
Board-certified physicians and trained staff members at UF Health Women’s Specialists – North conduct safety checks that help bolster relationships between patients and their providers. Brown says she encourages her patients to speak up — if something doesn’t seem right, say something. Bring up your concerns to your provider right away.
“Building trust between the patient and the provider is paramount. As much as the physician can give the patient time and information, the patient is also responsible for returning that information to the provider. It’s a healthy and productive balance of both perspectives,” said Brown.
Essential education and resources
UF Health Jacksonville offers high-level expertise, education, programs and resources for minority patients, designed to improve access to quality health care and pregnancy outcomes.
“We have a robust, high-risk labor and delivery division, maternal and fetal medicine department, and a diverse workforce of providers, nurses and staff that our patients interact with,” Brown said.
Little Miracles, Healthy Start and the Nurse-Family Partnership are community and evidence-based programs to increase prenatal and infant care in Jacksonville and throughout the First Coast. Little Miracles provides pregnancy tests, prenatal and infant care assistance, and maternity and childbirth education. Healthy Start is a nurse-led, prenatal case management program for high-risk women, which provides childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting classes, and assistance through Medicare enrollment. The Nurse-Family Partnership program provides nurse-led prenatal case management, infant health care and home visitation from birth to two years.
“The safety net of our organization and its reach into community programs and assistance is a strength of being associated with an extensive university system,” Brown said. “From a medical standpoint, patients can access many specialists within the same hospital system, which is a plus. We also have access to expert-level medical care, and new and upcoming technologies available throughout our various locations.
“I’m proud of our organization, specifically our labor and delivery department at UF Health North, with its allegiance to maintaining the quality of care for all patients. We recognize problems early. We listen to our patients. Minority women will have as safe and healthy an experience as possible under our care.”