At Rochester Regional Health, our mission is to enhance lives and preserve health for all. As the conversation about racial injustice is amplified around the country, we turn our attention to one of the most significant health care challenges facing black communities today: the black maternal mortality rate.
While the national maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is increasing for women of all races, studies show that, overall, black women are disproportionally affected and experience higher rates of death during pregnancy. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the mortality rate of black women during pregnancy, or in the months after giving birth, is 2.5 times higher than white women and three times higher than Hispanic women.
Like so many of the issues surrounding race and health care today, the reasons for these disparities are complex, systemic, and still not fully understood by many.
Researchers continue to study the exact causes of the increased mortality rate among black mothers. Initial findings point to several major factors, according to the CDC’s principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat. These factors include a lack of access to appropriate health care, a higher rate of underlying conditions, and the failure of providers to adequately recognize or treat early symptoms of pregnancy complications in their black patients.
Rochester Regional Health, in partnership with URMC and the Monroe County Department of Public Health, is focusing on reducing health disparities in our community as part of the new Monroe County Health Improvement Plan. One of the primary goals of the initiative is to reduce racial, ethnic, economic and geographic disparities in maternal and child health outcomes and promote health equity for maternal and child populations through evidence-based interventions.
Maggie Vill, MD, is an OBGYN at The Women’s Health Center at Rochester General Hospital and an advocate for black maternal health. Dr. Vill has dedicated her career to decreasing the maternal mortality rate of black women.
“It’s important to have a voice for women in underserved communities,” said Dr. Vill. “We want our patients to know that we are here for them and are fully equipped and ready to help them through their pregnancy—from their first appointment to the day they leave the hospital with their newborn.”
Rochester Regional Health’s Women’s Health practices, hospitals, and birthing centers work diligently to provide safe and comforting care, guiding our black patients through a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum recovery—even as the coronavirus sweeps through our community.
Here are some of the ways Dr. Vill and her colleagues at Rochester Regional Health are working to improve positive outcomes for maternity patients and to reduce the black maternal mortality rate in our own community.
As an expecting mother going through one of the most significant changes in her life, it is essential that women find a provider that they feel comfortable with. Rochester Regional Health is proud to employ a diverse group of expert Women’s Health providers, including midwives and OBs of all races, genders, and experiences.
When selecting a provider, we encourage all of our patients to ask questions to ensure a great provider-patient fit.
Some questions to ask could include:
Additionally, with locations throughout the Rochester and the Finger Lakes region, we are dedicated to ensuring that no matter where our patients live, exceptional Women’s Health care is easily accessible to our community’s expecting mothers.
For expecting mothers who may find getting to prenatal appointments and classes a challenge, we have provided a number of options for our patients to easily access the care they need – when and where they need it.
While things may look a little different than before, due to COVID-19, virtual appointments and classes are available to expectant families and those with newborns.
Today, routine prenatal and postpartum check-ups can be held over the phone or by video chat. If a patient should need to be seen in-person, a doctor will advise an in-office visit and several safety precautions will be taken to keep patients safe. For example, ultrasounds can and should still be performed in-office.
“Ultrasounds allow us to see how the baby is growing, make sure the baby is in the right position, especially towards the end of the pregnancy, and ensure mom and baby are well cared for,” Dr. Vill said.
Since the safety and comfort of patients is a priority, one non-symptomatic support person is allowed during Ultrasound appointments.
Online classes are also available for expectant families. It’s important to remain informed during pregnancy, so these classes can be completed on patients’ own time.
Additionally, a virtual Baby Café is available to new and expectant mothers to provide breastfeeding support, education, and guidance from lactation professionals. The service is free and available to all pregnant or breastfeeding mothers in the community.
Understandably, women of color may have some increased anxiety when it comes to delivering their baby safely, especially given the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“The hospital is still the safest place to give birth, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Dr. Vill. “Our hospitals have a range of equipment, as well as professionals who are essential to perform a safe and healthy birth.”
During birth, patients may bring one non-symptomatic support person with them. Currently, when expecting moms arrive at the hospital, they and their support person will be tested for COVID-19 and will both remain in their room throughout their stay. If a patient’s support person is displaying any symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, they will not be allowed to stay. For this reason, we strongly recommend having a backup support person or persons in mind, who may be able to fill in as needed.
All team members caring for our patients and their babies will wear face coverings and face shields to ensure everyone is protected.
The caregivers at each hospital are well-equipped and dedicated to creating a safe, healthy, and comfortable experience for expectant mothers and those with newborns, and we strongly encourage our patients to voice any concerns they may have throughout the process. We are here for you, and we are listening.
We know that our challenges are far from over – but we remain committed to improving our community by improving the lives of those we serve, one mother and baby at a time.