How structural racism and implicit bias impact America’s babies, even prior to birth
By ELLIE STANG
Becoming a new mother in America is more dangerous for some mothers than it should be. Each year, 700 women die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related causes in the United States, the highest number of any developed nation.
Health inequities in America mean that overwhelmingly, Black women and their infants are the ones impacted: Black mothers are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy than white ones. These discrepancies are wide ranging: American Indian and Alaska Native women are also 2x more likely to experience an adverse outcome as compared to their white counterparts. Too many of our mothers are dying of preventable causes. The CDC estimates that 70% of maternal deaths are avoidable – which helps underscore the urgent need to create tangible change.
Recent forces have helped shine a long overdue spotlight on the Black maternal mortality crisis in America. In April, the Biden Administration released a proclamation during Black Maternal Health Week, and planned legislative changes to address implicit bias in healthcare and apply funding where it is truly needed. Congress is fielding the “Momnibus” bill, which would fund grassroots organizations at the community level, actively establish bias training programs, and fill gaps created by social determinants of health (SDOH). Late last year, the HHS released an action plan to reduce maternal mortality and adverse outcomes by 50% in five years.
It is heartening to see action finally being taken: our mothers deserve more. At the same time, while we champion standardized and equal access to care for all of our mothers, we cannot overlook the newest cry in the room: the infant’s. Even before drawing her first breath, a baby girl’s future will be irrevocably shaped by structural racism and socioeconomic factors way beyond her control.
That’s why, to address health inequities, we must begin with our babies. Despite great advances in NICU technology and managed healthcare, infant mortality is on the rise – and it disproportionately affects Black babies. Today, black infants are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts.
By MIKE MAGEE
If you would like to visit the meeting place of America’s two great contemporary pandemics –COVID-19 and structural racism – you need only visit America’s Nursing Homes.
This should come as no surprise to Medical Historians familiar with our Medicaid program. Prejudice and bias were baked in well before the signing of Medicaid and Medicare on July 30, 1965.
President Kennedy’s efforting on behalf of health coverage expansion met stiff resistance from the American Medical Association and Southern states in 1960. Part of their strategic pushback was the endorsement of a state-run and voluntary offering for the poor and disadvantaged called Kerr-Mills. Predictably, Southern states feigned support, and enrollment was largely non-existent. Only 3.3% of participants nationwide came from the 10-state Deep South “Black Belt.”
Based on this experience, when President Johnson resurrected health care as a “martyr’s cause” after the Kennedy assassination, he carefully built into Medicaid “comprehensive care and services to substantially all individuals who meet the plan’s eligibility standards” by 1977. But by 1972, after seven years of skirmishes, the provision disappeared.
By ADRIAN GROPPER, MD
As the U.S. reckons with centuries of structural racism, an important step toward making health care more equitable will require transferring control of health records to patients and patient groups.
The Black Lives Matter movement calls upon us to review racism in all aspects of social policy, from law enforcement to health. Statistics show that Black Americans are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. The reasons for these disparities are not entirely clear. Every obstacle to data collection makes it that much harder to find a rational solution, thereby increasing the death toll.
In the case of medical research and health records, we need reform that strips control away from hospital chains and corporations. As long as hospital chains and corporations control health records, these entities may put up barriers to hide unethical behavior or injustice. Transferring power and control into the hands of patients and patient groups would enable outside auditing of health practices; a necessary step to uncover whether these databases are fostering structural racism and other kinds of harm. This is the only way to enable transparency, audits, accountability, and ultimately justice.
A recent review in STAT indicates that Black Americans suffer three to six times as much morbidity due to COVID-19. These ratios are staggering, and the search for explanations has not yielded satisfying answers.