Health

Local Black Women Weigh In on Maternal Health Legislation

In lieu of the state-of-the-art medical facility that had been promised to Ward 7 and 8 residents, members of the D.C. Council have drafted legislation bolstering the elements of what some elected officials have described as the ideal community-based health care system for people living in the eastern part of the District.

One of those bills, introduced by Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and 10 of his colleagues last summer, provides expectant and new mothers coverage through Medicaid and the D.C. Healthcare Alliance program for at least two postpartum healthcare and home visits, fertility preservation services, and transportation services. If passed, the legislation would also establish a Center on Maternal Health and Wellness.

For onetime expectant mother Kristi Love, such accommodations, though very well needed, would better serve her and other Black women in Ward 8 if anchored by a high-quality community medical institution that prioritizes cultural competency.

“People shouldn’t have to go outside of their ward [for medical care],” Love told The Informer. “It wasn’t even a conversation about going to United Medical Center or anywhere close. It was just George Washington Hospital.”

In October, Love had a stillborn birth she said could’ve been prevented had doctors at George Washington Hospital taken her cries for help seriously. During the 20th week of a smooth pregnancy, Love visited the hospital with lower body pain that doctors later diagnosed as a ligament strain. However, her water broke within a day and medical staff induced her birth.

Months later, Love contends negligence on the doctors’ part, even down to the manner in which they checked her contractions.

Late last month, Love recounted her experience to Allen and Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) during a public hearing that the council’s Committee on Health hosted for the Maternal Healthcare and Expansion Act.

“I want to start having more conversations and advocating for mothers and families to stay close for their care,” said Love, a Ward 8 resident who has lived in the D.C. metropolitan area since 2005. “They shouldn’t have to do an Uber or cab. Even if they do, it should be [to the hospital] in our wards.”

The facility replacing the financially insolvent UMC has been scheduled to open in 2022 on St. Elizabeths East Campus, much to the chagrin of residents in surrounding communities yearning for immediate high-quality care. Controversy surrounding Universal Health Services, the intended operator of the new hospital, has raised concerns about whether the new hospital would ever materialize, or if UMC will remain open in the interim.

Even as Gray has attempted to quell such anxiety, UMC staff have reported not being able to keep up with the influx of patients. This strain comes years after the closure of its obstetrics unit and that of Providence Hospital in Northeast.

Data shows that three out of four women who died from birth complications in the District within the past few years identified as Black. In November, a Southeast woman who suffered a miscarriage blamed an ambulance delay and the lack of a nearby maternity ward. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) launched a Maternal Mortality Review Committee within the Office of the Chief Examiner charged with developing strategies to curb birth complications disproportionately affecting Black mothers.

The Maternal Healthcare and Expansion Act accompanies the council’s Perinatal Healthcare Worker Training Access Act as a response to the high levels of maternal deaths and miscarriages in the District, particularly among mothers living east of the Anacostia River.

For local birth doula Malika Muhammad, meeting the goals outlined in these pieces of legislation would require taking into account how medical systems perpetuate racial bias against Black women during and after pregnancy.

Though she commended the D.C. Council’s efforts to provide postpartum resources, Muhammad said the Maternal Healthcare and Expansion Act could go much further.

“Those two visits would be used in the first week,” said Muhammad, also known as the “DC Doula.” “Medicaid providers are so focused on costs that they’re not considering if the offering is effective. [Services] covering six weeks of postpartum would look better. That’s a cross-cultural practice; it’s seen as a parent’s reentry. It’s not that they’re completely healed from the birthing experience [but] that’s when some of the symptoms go away.”

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