LONG ISLAND, RACE & MORTALITY DISPARITY

On Long Island, black women and their babies are four times more likely to die during childbirth as their white neighbors. Why is this happening and what is being done to help save their lives?

Aired on August 2, 2018 & July 17, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

ON LONG ISLAND, A DEADLY DISPARITY HAS BEEN DISCOVERED AMONG INFANTS AND MOTHERS.

BLACK WOMEN AND THEIR BABIES ARE FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DIE DURING CHILDBIRTH THAN WHITE COUNTERPARTS.

WHY?

WHAT'S CAUSING THIS HIGH RATE OF DEATH AMONG WOMEN AND INFANTS OF COLOR, AND WHAT IS BEING DONE TO SAVE LIVES?

JOINING US WITH THE DETAILS OF THIS CRISIS AND HOW ONE GROUP IS MAKING AN EFFORT TO END THE DISPARITY, DR. NELLIE TAYLOR WALKER AND MARTEEN HACKETT, A NONPROFIT WORKING TO SAVE AFRICAN-AMERICAN BABIES AND THEIR MOTHERS.

LADIES, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

SO FIRST I JUST WANT TO START OFF WITH, HOW WAS IT THAT THIS DISPARITY CAME TO YOUR ATTENTION?

HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO SEE CLEARLY THE NUMBERS THAT THERE WAS A PROBLEM IN TERMS OF DEATH RATES DURING BIRTH?

WELL, I FIRST BECAME AWARE OF THE ALARMING NUMBER OF INFANTS THAT WERE DYING BEFORE THEIR FIRST BIRTHDAY WAS ABOUT SIX OR SEVEN YEARS AGO WHEN THE STATISTICS CAME OUT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH.

AND IT SHOWED THAT THERE WERE THREE COMMUNITIES, ROOSEVELT, HEMSTEAD AND WESTBURY NEW CASTLE, ROOSEVELT THE HIGHEST, HEMSTEAD SECOND, AND NEW CASTLE THE THIRD HIGHEST WHERE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOULD DIE BEFORE THEIR FIRST BIRTHDAY, WITH A HIGH INFANT MORTALITY RATE, AND MANY BABIES WERE BORN BELOW THE NORMAL BIRTH WEIGHT.

AT THAT POINT, IT WAS VERY ALARMING TO ME, ESPECIALLY SINCE THE COMMUNITY OF WESTBURY NEW CASTLE IS ONE OF THE COMMUNITIES I WORK IN.

I'VE BEEN WORKING IN THAT COMMUNITY FOR 30 YEARS.

SO I TOOK IT PERSONALLY.

AND I SAID, WOW, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

SO THAT -- THROUGH OUR NATIONAL COUNTY NETWORK COMMITTEE, I JOINED UP WITH MARTEEN AND WE DID SEVERAL EVENTS TO BRING AWARENESS AND REALLY EXPLORE THIS DISPARITY IN THESE THREE COMMUNITIES.

AND THE PARALLEL BETWEEN WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THESE COMMUNITIES VERSUS WHAT IS HAPPENING IN SOME OF THE OTHER COMMUNITIES.

THERE IS A BIG DISPARITY.

AND I JUST WANT TO GET A LITTLE CLEARER FOR THE AUDIENCE.

ARE WE TALKING JUST DEATHS DURING CHILDBIRTH, AS A RESULT OF CHILDBIRTH, OR BABIES DYING BEFORE THEIR FIRST BIRTHDAY?

AND DO WE HAVE A GENERAL UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT MIGHT BE CAUSING THIS?

YES, SO WE'RE TALKING ABOUT TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.

OR I SHOULD SAY TWO INTERRELATED TOPICS.

ONE IS INFANT MORTALITY.

THAT'S THE DEATH OF AN INFANT UNDER ONE YEAR.

THAT CAN BE WITHIN THE FIRST FEW HOURS, MONTHS, DAYS, WEEKS OF BIRTH.

THAT INFANT MORTALITY RATE IS CAUSED BY PREMATURITY AND LOW BIRTHRATE.

WE KNOW THAT WE SEE BIG DIFFERENCES, ACCORDING TO THE DEATH RATE FROM GROUPS ACROSS NASSAU COUNTY AND DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES.

WE'RE ALSO TALKING ABOUT MATERNAL MORTALITY.

MATERNAL MORTALITY IS THE DEATH OF A WOMAN AFTER CHILDBIRTH UP UNTIL ONE YEAR AFTER CHILDBIRTH.

SO IT COULD BE SOMETHING THAT'S DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE BIRTH, LIKE HEMORRHAGE OR A BLOOD CLOT, OR IT CAN BE OTHER RELATED DISEASES THAT ARE -- THAT GET WORSE AFTER CHILDBIRTH.

AND SO BOTH OF THESE THINGS ARE AREAS THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED IN WAYS THAT SORT OF UNDERSTAND WHY THESE DISPARITIES AND DIFFERENCES EXIST, AND RECOGNIZE THAT NOT ALL COMMUNITIES ARE BEING -- HAVE FAIRLY EQUAL ACCESS TO THE THINGS THAT CAN HELP TO PREVENT THEM.

OF COURSE.

AND ONE OF THE FIRST QUESTIONS THAT COMES TO MIND IS, IS THERE A ROLE THAT POVERTY MIGHT BE PLAYING INTO THIS?

BUT AT THE SAME TIME WE'VE SEEN SEVERAL REPORTS THAT HAVE PRETTY MUCH LAID OUT THAT THERE IS A DISPARITY IN THE QUALITY OF HEALTH CARE THAT NOT JUST WOMEN OF COLOR, BUT PARTICULARLY BLACK WOMEN GET AS OPPOSED TO WITH THEIR WHITE COUNTERPARTS?

WERE YOU FINDING THAT IN YOUR RESEARCH?

ABSOLUTELY.

THIS IS SOMETHING THAT'S SADLY NOT A NEW STATISTIC THAT WE SEE THAT CARE IS DIFFERENT ACROSS DIFFERENT GROUPS, SPECIFICALLY AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN.

AND SO WHAT WE FOUND IS THAT EVEN THOUGH PEOPLE WOULD GENERALLY THINK THIS IS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS IN CITIES, RIGHT, AND WE KNOW THAT IN NEW YORK CITY THAT THERE IS A HIGH, BOTH MATERNAL MORTALITY AND BLACK INFANT MORTALITY RATE.

BUT THE TRUTH IS, WHEN WE START TO LOOK AT THESE RATES IN NASSAU COUNTY, IS SUBURBAN AREA, WE ACTUALLY SEE THAT HERE.

MANY OF THE REASONS ARE THE SAME.

DIFFERENTIAL TREATMENT.

WOMEN NOT BEING TREATED WITH RESPECT AND CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE CARE.

AND SOMETHING THAT'S CALLED DENY AND DELAY.

THAT WHEN WOMEN SORT OF EXPRESS THAT SOMETHING DOESN'T FEEL RIGHT, THAT THEY ARE NOT SORT OF GIVEN THE ATTENTION THAT THEY ARE -- AND RESPECT THAT THEY ARE PROBABLY ACTUALLY ACCURATELY IDENTIFYING.

AND SO THE EXAMPLE OF SERENA WILLIAMS AND HER -- THE AFTERMATH OF HER BIRTH IS AN EXAMPLE OF THIS, THAT HERE IS SOMEBODY WHO HAS, YOU KNOW, POVERTY IS NOT AN ISSUE, BUT YET SHE IDENTIFIED THAT SHE'S FEELING THE RESULTS OF A PULMONARY EMBOLISM OR A BLOOD CLOT IN HER LUNGS AND WAS DENIED AND DELAYED IN TERMS OF HER ACCESS TO CARE AND CAME CLOESE O DEATH.

THIS IS SOMETHING THAT WE RECOGNIZE COMES ACROSS ALL SOCIOECONOMIC STATUSES LONG ALL BLACK WOMEN.

HOW ARE YOU ADVISING WOMEN TO ADDRESS OR APPROACH THEIR TREATMENT, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY'RE IN SUCH A DELICATE MATERNAL STATE?

I THINK EARLY INTERVENTION AND EARLY EDUCATION.

AND THAT'S ONE OF THE FOCUS OF THE BIRTH JUSTICE WARRIORS PROJECT IS, IS TO PROVIDE EDUCATION, AWARENESS, BRING ATTENTION TO THE STRESSES, BRING ATTENTION TO THE DISPARITIES THAT MANY AFRICAN-AMERICAN MOTHERS ARE FACED WITH ON A DAILY BASIS, AND TO COME UP WITH STRATEGIES THAT, ON A LOCAL LEVEL, ON A STATE LEVEL, AND EVEN ON A NATIONAL LEVEL, TO MAKE SURE THAT THE PLAYING FIELD IS LEVEL, THAT THERE ARE NO DISPARITIES, THERE BE EQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF THE RESOURCES TO REACH THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MOTHERS SO THAT THEY CAN GIVE BIRTH.

BECAUSE THAT'S OUR DESIRE, THAT EVERY MOTHER SHOULD HAVE A HEALTHY PREGNANCY AND HAVE A HEALTHY BABY, AND BE ABLE TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE THROUGHOUT NASSAU COUNTY.

VERY QUICKLY, I DO WANT TO ASK, SHOULD A NEW MOTHER TO BE COME TO YOU AND SAY, YOU KNOW, I'VE READ ALL THESE REPORTS, I AM A BLACK WOMAN, I'M PREGNANT, I'M CONCERNED, WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST THAT I MAKE SURE TO LET MY DOCTOR KNOW, OR TO BE VERY FORCEFUL ABOUT?

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE WOULD SAY THAT'S EXTREMELY IMPORTANT IS TO BE AWARE OF THE RISKS AFTER BIRTH.

AND SO WE KNOW THAT AFTER BIRTH IT'S OFTEN THE ATTENTION IS RIGHT TO THAT BRAND NEW BABY AND NOT TO MOM.

WE KNOW THAT AFTER A WOMAN DELIVERS A BABY, THAT SHE IS AT RISK FOR MANY OF THE LEADING CAUSES OF MATERNAL MORTALITY.

HOWEVER, MOST WOMEN AREN'T EVEN MADE AWARE OF WHAT THOSE CAUSES ARE, OR WHAT SOME OF THE WARNING SIGNS OF THEM ARE.

SO I WOULD -- ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE WOULD SAY IS POST DISCHARGE, BEFORE WOMEN ARE DISCHARGED, FOR THEM TO KNOW WHAT THEY'RE LOOKING FOR, IN TERMS OF FEELING FEVER, AND NOT TO DENY AND DELAY.

AND WE ALSO KNOW THAT CARE FOR A MOTHER AFTER DELIVERY IS SOMETHING WE CONSIDER UNBELIEVELY INTEGRAL TO THIS WORK.

LISTEN, LADIES, THANK YOU BOTH SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU.

AND FOR THE WORK THAT YOU DO.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON BIRTH JUSTICE WARRIORS, VISIT US AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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