Addressing Maternal Health Disparities in California: Strategies and Solutions

Maternal mortality rates have been on the rise in recent years, especially among black women, despite investments and political activism to address the issue. In 2021, California passed legislation to tackle racial disparities in maternal and child health. However, proponents of the legislation say that transparency, accountability, and deeper investment are still needed.

Dana Sherrod, co-founder and director of the California Black Birth Justice Coalition, is an expert in advancing health and racial equality in hospitals and government agencies. She gave birth to her second daughter in 2018, but what was supposed to be a beautiful experience turned into a dire situation requiring an emergency caesarean section. She was left with an infection that required a second hospitalization and time away from her newborn and her then 4-year-old.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maternal mortality will continue to rise in 2021, disproportionately affecting black women. In the first 90 days of this year, two black mothers in Los Angeles, April Valentine and Bridget Cromer, died from complications related to childbirth. As a black mother with first-hand experience, Sherrod is frustrated and angered by the failure of the healthcare system to address the issue of maternal mortality, especially among black women.

To address the issue of maternal mortality and ensure the well-being of black mothers and their children, sustained investment in Black-led organizations, new ways of working together, and equity-centered action by policymakers, philanthropists, and the healthcare system is needed. Long-term investments over multiple years can provide sustained resources to those working to address the issue.

In addition, healthcare systems must take responsibility for the quality of care provided, especially to black women who have reported higher than average abuse experiences, including being yelled at and scolded and being ignored or denied help when asked.

California leads the nation in its commitment to birth equity, but more must be done. The California Monnibus Act, signed into law in 2021, created a fund to strengthen the midwifery workforce, extended medical coverage to 12 months postpartum, and helped low-income pregnant Californians. However, these policies must be coupled with transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure their effectiveness.

To achieve true transformative solidarity, black voices must be at the forefront, and solutions must be developed that incorporate both measurability and accountability. The healthcare system must identify and address racism and prejudice, and policies must be in place to ensure equity-centered action.

Overall, transparency, accountability, and deeper investment are necessary to address the issue of maternal mortality in black communities and ensure the well-being of black mothers and their children.

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