Black Moms Need to Tell Their Healthcare Stories

Source: NJ

I was about five months pregnant with my first child. It was a dreary February and I caught a cold. My doctor at the Medicaid clinic told me to go home and take Tylenol and Sudafed, so I did. The next thing I remember was looking up from the floor at a circle of panicked faces.

My family had found me there; I was having a seizure and vomiting. After waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance, they drove me to the emergency room. I was alert but didn’t know what had happened to me, or my baby. Reading from a clipboard, the emergency room doctor he mentioned that my drug toxicology test had come back negative. Then he asked “How long have you been clean?”

I have never used illegal drugs. But I am African-American; I did live in Trenton, it was 1990 — the midst of a crack epidemic — and this doctor made a dangerous and disrespectful assumption. My story is not unique, but it’s something people don’t often talk about.

This is Black Maternal Health Week, which provides an opportunity to raise awareness of both the systemic racism and the special risks many black women face. Now is the time to tell our stories and advocate for policies that will reduce infant and maternal mortality. Thirty years later, too much has not changed, especially for African-American women — especially in New Jersey.

Of all pregnancy-related deaths in New Jersey between 2009-2013, more than 46 percent were black women — five times that of their white counterparts. Black babies still die at three times the rate of white newborns and women of all races are more likely to lose their lives during childbirth here than in many other states. We can — and must — do better.

Whether a patient comes in with Medicaid — as I did — or private insurance or no insurance, she should receive quality care. The emergency that nearly killed both me, and my son, was caused by high blood pressure — at nearly stroke levels. And no one had paid attention until it was almost too late.

As a Trenton Health Team nurse, I work every day to provide coordinated, compassionate care to each person who needs help, and to improve the healthcare system to meet the needs of each patient regardless of income or race. Trenton Health Team recognizes the special needs facing mothers in our community and works closely with community groups to identify healthcare needs and help residents learn to care for — and advocate for — themselves. It’s time for us to speak up.

By Cheryl Towns, a Nurse Case Manager for Trenton Health Team and head of the Care Management Team, connecting more than 100 city residents with essential health services and providing direct care services when necessary.

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