By Aya Elamroussi, Special to the AFRO
Not one, but two maternity wards closed last year in the District in areas that are predominately used by African Americans— Northeast and Southeast D.C.
It began with the closure of United Medical Center’s obstetrics ward last August in Southeast, according to the Washington Post. It continued with the shutdown of Providence Hospital’s maternity ward in Northeast’s Ward 5, which is 68 percent Black, in October 2017, the Post later reported.
UMC, the city’s sole public hospital and the only one east of the Anacostia River, closed after regulators found serious medical errors in the treatment of pregnant women and newborns, the Post said. Providence closed as a “cost-saving measure,” according to the Post.
The D.C.-based nonprofit Bread for the City, which- according to its website- helps provide District low-income wage earners with services like food, clothing and medical care, aims to expand its medical services in the Southeast area.
The nonprofit plans to provide primary care services such as physicals, lab tests medication and dental procedures by the year 2020, the organization’s newsletter Good Hope Gazette, said. The newsletter, which was released in February 2018, doesn’t mention plans for launching maternity care in Southeast. DID WE CALL BREAD FOR THE CITY AND ASK THEM?
Southeast D.C. consists mostly of Wards 7 and 8, which consist of about 90 percent African American residents while the average household income is about $34,000. Half the population in both Wards is female. As of now, there are no maternity care providers in the area.
“The biggest risk factor for infant and maternal mortality is a lack of prenatal and obstetric care,” Melissa Fries, chair of Women’s and Infants’ Services at Washington Hospital Center, told the Post.
Black mothers and babies have been experiencing this lack as early as the 1850, when the U.S. began documenting infant mortality by race, according to the New York Times. That year, while the White infant-mortality rate was 217 per 1,000, the Black rate was 340 per 1,000, the Times reported.
Now, the disparity continues despite the medical advancements America has undergone since then. Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as White infants, according to most recent government data, the Times said.
The issue of Black women and maternal health transcends class lines. A 2016 study by Brookings Institution shows that babies born to middle class Black mothers are more likely to die than babies born to White mothers with less than a high school education.
Black women are at more health risk, too, than their White counterparts during pregnancy. The Times reported that Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related health issue as White women. That mortality rate is higher than Mexico’s, where about half the population is in poverty, the Times said.
The systemic and institutional racism Black women face in America can create a toxic physiological stress, resulting in health conditions such as hypertension and pre-eclampsia, the Times reported. These conditions can lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death.
Often times, medical spaces are not free of societal racism. In fact, the Times said, racial bias in health care can lead to dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms, which can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of Black women with the most advantages.