Bronx BP Calls for Policy Changes to Improve Black Maternal Mortality

Bronx BP Calls for Policy Changes to Improve Black Maternal Mortality

By JULIAN NAZAR

BRONX BOROUGH PRESIDENT Vanessa Gibson joins mothers and those advocating for better childbirth support on the steps of Bronx County Courthouse, located at 851 Grand Concourse, on Wednesday, April 13, to mark Black Maternal Health Week.
Photo by Julian Nazar

To mark Black Maternal Health Week, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson joined a host of mothers and advocates fighting for access to safe labor support on the steps of Bronx County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 13. The group were gathered to demand policy changes at State level to combat the high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity seen in the borough.

According to data published by Fatoumata Diallo, city research scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, The Bronx had the highest severe maternal morbidity (SMM) rate among all five boroughs as of April 11. In addition, as reported recently by Norwood News, on the same day, the City’s health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, recently said, “In New York City, on average, the rate of pregnancy related deaths is 9.4 times higher for Black mothers compared to white mothers.”

The health commissioner was speaking at the reopening of the family wellness suite at Tremont Neighborhood Health Action Center, located at 1826 Arthur Avenue in Tremont, which had been closed for in-person services amid the pandemic. He added, “This is consistently one of the starkest inequities we see in any health outcome in our city, and these outcomes are not driven by race, they are driven by structural racism.”

During the April 13 event at Bronx County Courthouse, Gibson spoke about the lives that had been lost to pregnancy complications, saying, “I think about the failure. We failed some of our mothers, and they have died giving birth,” she said. “We owe it to them to carry on and make the future different.”

During the event, which was also attended by Deputy Borough President Janet Peguero, Gibson highlighted the importance of marking Black Maternal Health Week, which is now an annual, national event that was officially recognized by the White House on April 13, 2021. Gibson formally declared the same week, April 11 to April 17 as Black Maternal Health Week in The Bronx.

Its purpose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is to “bring attention and action in improving Black maternal health.” Through her research, Diallo found that Black, non-Hispanic women in New York City had a maternal morbidity rate more than 2.5 times higher than their White counterparts.

Gibson shared that one of her goals as borough president was to provide a birthing center for mothers in The Bronx. “Delivering a baby in a birthing center allows our Black women to have a different kind of experience,” Gibson said. “These facilities provide culturally sensitive care and demonstrate an understanding of traditional birthing practices in our BIPOC communities and allow the family members to be present.”

BRUCE MCINTYRE III DELIVERS remarks in front of Bronx County Courthouse, located at 851 Grand Concourse, on Wednesday, April 13, to mark Black Maternal Health Week.
Photo by Julian Nazar

Bruce McIntyre III is the founder of Save a Rose Foundation and understands better than most the importance of medical care that is attuned to the specific needs of patients. His partner, Amber Rose Isaac, died giving birth via an emergency C-section. Since then, through the work of the foundation, McIntyre has been advocating for freestanding, midwifery birthing centers.

He said due to his partner being at high risk during her pregnancy, they were unable to have a home birth with midwives. “And we weren’t able to have our delivery in a birthing center setting,” he said. McIntyre said the couple were therefore obliged to enter the medical system and his partner ended up passing away at the hospital. Their baby survived.

Gibson later outlined current actions her office is taking to address the issue of Black maternal mortality and morbidity in The Bronx. “First, we are restoring an important borough-wide body, the Bronx Maternal Health Consortium,” she said. “And with our long-standing partnership with the Bronx Health Link, we will provide the borough with a network of doula services as well as pre and post-natal education to support Bronx mothers with the highest level of health risks.”

A doula is a woman, typically without formal, obstetric training, who is employed to provide guidance and support to pregnant women during labor. Gibson later outlined the three main policy recommendations of the Bronx Maternal Health Consortium. “New York should make doula coverage statewide across New York State, on a permanent basis, and increase the reimbursement rate to match our peer states,” she said.

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson’s response in March 2022 to Mayor Eric Adam’s plan to combat maternal mortality and morbidity in New York City.
Source: Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson

“The New York State Department of Health should make health records truly portable, and strictly enforce hospitals and other health care facilities compliance with health record-sharing through regional health information organizations,” Gibson continued. “New York State must also adopt the New York City standards for respectful care at birth as a required notification of patient rights at all hospitals and birthing facilities across The Bronx and The City of New York.”

In March, Mayor Eric Adams released his administration’s plan to combat maternal mortality and morbidity in New York City, announcing the citywide expansion of the doula program, the expansion of a midwifery initiative, and the expansion of a maternal health care services program. The citywide doula initiative will provide free access to doulas for birthing families and focus on 33 neighborhoods with the greatest social needs.

The midwifery initiative will be expanded to all 38 public and private birthing facilities citywide and will allow the City’s health department, for the first time, to gather data on births and care with midwives; create partnerships with midwife organizations, private practices, and community members; and develop a report on midwives in New York City. Meanwhile, the maternity hospital quality improvement network (MHQIN) will be expanded across all 38 birthing facilities across the city in an effort to improve maternal care at local hospitals and birthing centers.

Gibson welcomed the plan, saying in part, “Women of color across our city deserve to have access to quality, patient-centered reproductive care before, during, and after childbirth. We continue to lose too many mothers to prevent maternal complications that could have been avoided if they had support from a doula or midwife.”

She said she believed Adams’ plan was a step in the right direction towards dismantling years of systemic bias and racism in the healthcare industry. “As the borough with the highest maternal mortality rate in New York State and the only one led by two women, this issue is personal for us,” she said. “I am thankful that we also have a partner at City Hall that will work with us to combat this issue.”

Myla Flores, a doula based in The Bronx, later discussed her new initiative, the Womb Bus, a mobile community health and wellness hub. “We need to provide families in Black and brown communities in The Bronx with immediate access to quality maternity and reproductive care,” she said. “We know that we need to solve this by coming right to the communities, posting up, and having families pull up with information and resources available to them that we can connect them to.”

Flores also spoke about the expected timeline for the initiative. “This wellness hub is coming at you in mid-May, and we want you to pull up to our stations, and every day of the week, Monday through Friday, for six hours of the day, we’ll be there,” she said. “And of those six hours, 90 minutes are going to be a community education offering that is provided at no charge.”

BRONX BOROUGH PRESIDENT Vanessa Gibson declares April 11 through April 17 Black Maternal Health Week in The Bronx on Wednesday, April 13 at an event in front of Bronx County Courthouse, at 851 Grand Concourse in The Bronx.
Photo by Julian Nazar

Flores said the five pillars of the Womb Bus are reproductive wellness and fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, infant and feeding partners, and community. She said each of the pillars will be addressed at different locations throughout The Bronx.

Paulette Henriquez, director of Bronx Health Link, was the final speaker at the event. Her organization was founded in 1998 by former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer while he was in office. According to Bronx Health Link’s website, the organization “researches and reports on the health problems of Bronx residents and collaborates with other like-minded, community agencies toward the goal of good health care for all.”

Henriquez shared information about one of her organization’s latest initiatives. “We have a program right here with the borough president where we provide doula services and resources for pregnant women, and also provide portable cribs for many families that don’t have a proper place for their infants to sleep,” she said. Henriquez said anyone interested in learning more about their programs can visit their website at www.bronx healthlink.org.

*Síle Moloney contributed to this story.

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