Underlying Conditions: Louisiana’s Safe Births Initiative cooks up a special recipe for reducing pregnancy related deaths in black mothers

“As I say a lot of times to my patients, in obstetrics, things go from good to bad very quickly.”

Beauty for Ashes seeks solutions to reproductive justice. The grim statistics are known: American black women are four times more likely to die of pregnancy related complications than white women. Louisiana’s Safe Births Initiatives, under the leadership of obstetric physician Veronica Gillispie-Bell, found solutions to two preventable causes of maternal death, according to WWNO New Orleans Public Radio.

The two most common causes of pregnancy related death are obstetric hemorrhage and severe hypertension. Dr. Gillispie-Bell says, “As I say a lot of times to my patients, in obstetrics, things go from good to bad very quickly.”

She trains other obstetric physicians to plan ahead for the crisis of heavy bleeding by having blood on hand for both high-risk and low-risk patients. Likewise, she instituted a standard practice in which doctors release women with severe high blood pressure with medication, blood pressure cuff, follow up plan, and referral to a cardiologist. Putting these practices in place reduced severe hemorrhaging by nearly 40% and serious high blood pressure complications by 22% in four years.

The solution is deceptively simple. Dr. Gillispie-Bell had to teach and convince her fellow doctors to understand the difference between “healthcare disparities” and “health disparities” and the difference between “equality” and “equity.” Some doctors stormed out of her meetings when confronted with implicit bias and structural racism. The Safe Births Initiative provided a process for all women to receive the same level of care regardless of race.

The State of Ohio received a $2.2 million grant from the CDC to continue its Pregnancy Related Mortality Review program in 2019. From 2008 through 2016 in Ohio, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 11.5 for white women and 29.5 for black women. Over half of those deaths were deemed preventable.

Beauty for Ashes will follow up with Ohio’s Pregnancy Related Mortality Review to find out if they are recommending processes similar to those in Louisiana to stop the lethalness of pregnancy for black women.

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