How this doctor is fighting the Black maternal health crisis
Black mothers are three or four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white mothers, a sobering fact that inspired the Black Maternal Momnibus Bill, a 12-measure package which aims to ensure Black mothers have access to inclusive, respectful and proper care and services.
Dr. Dakisha Lewis, chairperson and medical director of Obstetrics and Gynecology for Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, said Black maternal mortality “is an often preventable tragedy.” Women who are victims of systemic racism are dying at a disproportionate rate, she said.
“The risk is significantly higher for our patients of color because of genetic predispositions, comorbid conditions and access to good quality health care and all the resources they need to have a healthy pregnancy,” Dr. Lewis said. “I’m also working with women who are coping with feelings of grief, injustice and the loss of loved ones.”
She’s seen firsthand how health inequities affect these moms. And while the solutions to fix the problem aren’t simple, hospitals can start by making sure doctors and nurses are culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of the patient, whether it’s regarding their cholesterol levels or their ability to catch a bus and make it to their appointment.
Mothers need to feel seen and heard when they’re receiving care and this starts with caregivers who take the time to understand exactly what they’re going through, Dr. Lewis explained. “These women are dealing with some very complicated issues on top of going through one of the trickiest and hardest things women go through,” she continued.
At Advocate Trinity Hospital, Dr. Lewis created a maternal birth equity team specifically aimed to identify key components that may contribute to improving birth equity. This includes comprehensive training for staff to improve cultural competency, address implicit bias, enhance communication, identify non-classical disease presentations and train in obstetric emergency care. The team is also looking to improve diversity in maternal health care.
Access to culturally competent care from diverse caregivers is critical to successful pregnancies, which is why the Momnibus Bill is a good first step, she said. And diversity in health care should come at every level, from hospital leadership to the caregivers at the bedside.
“Every person deserves inclusive, respectful, clinically excellent health care that is culturally sensitive and allows people to feel like their needs are being met,” Dr. Lewis said. “When you take care of a woman, you take care of her entire family.”
Dr. Lewis actually practices this way. I trust her with my life years and I’m always expressively thankful to the creator for her life and her work.