cultural competency, Local Voices

Structural Racism in Healthcare

You may have heard the statistic that Black women in the US are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth or after due to complications than white women. 

Maybe that statement resonates with you as just a number, or maybe that information raises a red flag – or several – for you as you think about maternal healthcare in our country. 

The massive maternal mortality rate for Black women should propel you to examine your own practice, have conversations with the providers in your network, and educate yourself and your team to make sure that you are not contributing to this problem, but actively working to solve it. 

To start, it’s necessary to dispel the common misinformation that is often used as “the simple explanation” for this disparity that, in turn, allows many providers with implicit biases to remain in a state of blissful ignorance. Many believe that Black women die during childbirth or causes related to pregnancy at a higher rate than any other demographic in the nation because of underlying health conditions common in their demographic or community.

This is not true, and we no longer have time to allow this misconception to continue. This is a fallacy that costs lives. 

The biggest contributing factor to this staggering death rate of Black birthing people is this: structural racism in healthcare and underlying biases of healthcare providers.

So, what is the cure to this epidemic? Education, information, training, and most importantly, the implementation of those resources. A combination of education and action within the healthcare system can save the lives of Black women in our country. And when we improve healthcare for one marginalized demographic, we improve it for everyone. The system is already built and designed to serve white, upper class patients. When we expand our understanding of all cultures, expose deep and unaddressed biases, and call out structural racism, we can invoke great change. 

Nurses, doctors, practitioners, midwives – this awakening is for you. Everyone in healthcare should aspire to educate themselves on the ways the systems that we have grown accustomed to, and blindly accepted, have failed entire communities. To strive to be a better healthcare provider every day means striving to provide better care to every patient, regardless of age, class, gender, or race. 

Some great places to start are attending a training or inviting a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion trainer to your practice, researching and attending webinars that address racial disparities in healthcare, and diversifying your staff and welcoming and implementing their insight. You can also attend my upcoming talk at Head for the Hills to learn more about structural racism in healthcare systems, and how we can work together to eradicate dangerous biases. 

Kenda Sutton-EL
Birth in Color RVA 

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