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Dennis Semple lifts his face to the sky and weeps. It has been five weeks since his daughter Sha-Asia Semple died in childbirth at Bed-Stuy’s Woodhull Medical Center, and the pain has not subsided.
“Every day I wake up and I cry,” he said outside the center Thursday. “I just want justice for my daughter. I love my granddaughter, but my daughter is gone.”
Sha-Asia Semple died after going into hospital July 2, a few days after her due date, for a routine stress test. After the hospital saw the 26-year-old’s blood pressure was abnormally high, she was given a medication to induce labor and then an epidural. Her healthy baby Khloe was delivered via c-section, but Semple died after going into cardiac arrest.
Her fiance, Juwan Lopez, is now raising their daughter as a single dad. Mom Rayshema Washington said she wants Woodhull closed. “It’s not just for my daughter, it’s for all of the women who this has happened to.”
Semple’s death has tragically put a spotlight on the inequities of the maternal health system for Black women.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Semple’s loved ones, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Representative Yvette Clarke and local maternal health advocates demanded more be done to address Black maternal morbidity, saying Semple must not just be another statistic.
Black women in the United States are more than three times more likely to die due to pregnancy or childbirth than white women, and about 60% of those deaths are preventable, according to CDC data. The trend is not new, and not enough has been done to correct it, Williams said.
“These numbers are out there, they’ve been out there,” he said. “This pain represents a lot of families.” He said, while the recent focus was on the NYPD budget, many other budgets were cut, including in healthcare.
Congresswoman Clarke said the numbers clearly showing Black women getting subpar maternal healthcare were “atrocious” and underreported. “This is a silent issue we can no longer be silent about,” she said. “We have to believe Black women when they say they feel pain, we should add extra precautions when we see they are in distress.”
Eleven bills have been introduced federally this year to improve maternal health outcomes and tackle the stark racial disparities in care. One of those is the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020, which calls for a task force to tackle the issues, more funding for community services and improved data.
Brooklyn Perinatal Network Deputy Executive Director Denise West said her organization was working right here in our community to address the system “rooted in racism and inequality.” The network champions greater access to healthcare — and says this should be happening well before a pregnant woman needs to visit the hospital. It said more funding needed to go to community-based organizations to reach women before the point of emergency.
The family appeared with personal injury attorney Rose M. Day, of Day & Associates, P.C. who said it was vital the United States secured a safer place for Black women giving birth.
Afterwards, she told the BK Reader no case had been filed against the hospital, and she was not at liberty to say whether one was in the works. “Let me tell you this was avoidable, and it’s a system that needs to be held accountable and we will make sure it is accountable to this family.”