Tyra Wilkes is a social equity writer living in the District.
After years of alleged malpractice and the unfortunate passing of too many mamas and their babies, the District saw fit to close the only obstetrics ward east of the river.
What did this mean for women who don’t have access to hospitals in more affluent parts of town? They go without care. They ignore early signs of complications because it’s easier than catching two buses and the Metro to the other side of town. Women like Melissa Esposito, who traveled miles through a winter storm on foot to show up for an appointment she fought to secure, only to be greeted by a “closed” sign on the front door of Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center. No notice. Women like Melissa, who are willing to endure immeasurable amounts of discomfort to ensure their child’s safety, are suffering.
Infants born in Ward 8 are 10 times more likely to die than those born in Ward 3. Ward 8, whose population is 92 percent black with a median household income of $34,000, vs. Ward 3, whose population is 82 percent white with a median household income of $136,000.
It’s clear that poverty charges interest, and if you’re a black woman living in the District, that interest could be your life or that of your child. Sometimes both.
The District’s chief medical examiner, Roger A. Mitchell Jr., testified that 75 percent of the maternal deaths in the District between 2014 and 2016 were black women. Could these women have been saved? Do medical professionals serving these communities see them as equal? Has the centuries-long stigma of black women spilled over into the quality of medical care we’re given? Has it altered the perception of our needs? Black lives matter in the doctor’s office, too, right? Is it right that in our city, your tax bracket determines whether you live or die?
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) convened a summit to examine the causes behind these deaths. Will a post-mortem exam do anything more than confirm what we already know? Lack of access to adequate health care has caused the maternal mortality rate in our city to skyrocket. Instead of another committee, let’s route those funds into initiatives to save lives. Route those funds into programs and resources for these women and prove that black women matter in real life.
Howard University Hospital opened a WIC Center for military families, wherein recipients are able to receive health care, access to healthy foods, nutritional and educational counseling, breast-feeding support, immunization resources and community-based social services. We need more. Our health matters. Our babies matter. Our mamas matter.
Here’s something D.C. officials could do: Allow doulas to be covered by Medicaid.
Studies demonstrate the disconnect people of color feel from health-care professionals who sometimes can’t comprehend what patients experience in their daily lives and how those factors could affect treatment and patient care.
Doulas provide intimacy, familiarity, support and medical knowledge that many women in low-income areas have difficulty accessing.
New York recently joined Oregon and Minnesota in allowing doulas to be covered by Medicaid. It launched the first phase of this program for an expected $300,000 in Erie County; the second phase launched this spring in Brooklyn.
Doulas reduce the likelihood of near-death emergencies. Women who received doula support had lower preterm and caesarean birthrates than Medicaid beneficiaries regionally. These are facts. Studies have shown that coverage reimbursement for doula services would likely save money for state Medicaid programs.
What are we waiting for? More women to die to show a real need for change? The studies have been done. The stories have been told. I’m writing this for the babies and mamas whose fate was decided for them based on the 10 miles that separated them from decent health care.
Black mama grows up in poverty. Black mama can’t afford health care. Black mama contracts health issues that get ignored. Black mama dies in birth.
Black mamas are worth saving.