Black women are 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, and maternal morbidity rates are highest among women living in the poorest neighborhoods, with Brownsville having the highest rate in the city.
In an effort to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health, Merck for Mothers awarded the NYC Health Department and the Fund for Public Health a $1.8 million grant. Research shows: Black women are 12 times more likely than White women to die from pregnancy-related complications in New York City.
“Ensuring women of color receive the high-quality care they need during pregnancy is critical to reversing the unacceptable racial disparities in maternal morbidity,” said Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy. “The funding will serve to further the important work of the Health Department in reducing the unacceptable racial and ethnic disparities in maternal and infant health that continue to affect New Yorkers of color.”
New York City is the first city in the nation to examine severe maternal morbidity (SMM), defined as unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health. The new grant will ensure that hospitals are including severe maternal morbidity in their performance review, which will help the department increase surveillance of these complications.
The Severe Maternal Morbidity, New York City 2008-2012 (SMM) report, released in 2016 by the health department in collaboration with Merck for Mothers, revealed persistent disparities in SMM rates across race, ethnicity and income. SMM affects approximately 2,500 New York City women a year. Black women had the highest rate (387 per 10,000 deliveries), three times that of White women (127 per 10,000 deliveries). The SMM rate was also high among women who were Puerto Rican (272 per 10,000 deliveries) or of other Latina origin (249 per 10,000 deliveries). Several maternal morbidity rates were highest among women living in the poorest neighborhoods, with Brownsville having the highest rate in the city (497 per 10,000 deliveries).
Research shows the driving force behind these disparities is structural racism, the normalization of policies that foster discrimination and disinvestment in communities of color. Structural racism impacts chronic stress and disease, which markedly increases the risk of maternal mortality, severe maternal morbidity and infant mortality. Communities that have been historically oppressed bear the heaviest burden of negative health outcomes in NYC.
“Racial and ethnic disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes are persistent, intolerable and preventable,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “This grant will advance our work with maternity facilities to improve the quality of care across the city and to ensure all families receive respectful and safe maternity care.”