In November 2022, Dr. Stanley Goldfarb published Maternal Mortality in the U.S. – Media Narratives and Reality to explain the metrics and reporting systems used in the United States that contribute to maternal mortality rates that are higher than in other developed nations. But not all presentations on this topic are intended to bring clarity to maternal health concerns.
Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, in collaboration with the Rochester Black Nurses Association (RBNA), hosted a virtual discussion for Black Maternal Health Week titled Unpacking Racial Disparities in Maternal Health Outcomes and Identifying Solutions. However, it quickly became clear that “identifying solutions” wasn’t even close to being on the agenda.
Celia McIntosh, one of the founders of the RBNA, presented “Black Maternal Health: The Tragic Truth.” McIntosh, who is a neurology nurse practitioner, set the tone early by quoting a statement from Malcolm X about “the most disrespected…unprotected…neglected person in American is the black woman.” Her response was, “Fifty years later, that still rings true.”
In addition to the “social determinants of health” that are commonly cited, McIntosh included “other community factors that play here: Police, laws, property, racism.” When discussing education as a contributing factor, she stated, “Higher education still does not improve racial differences in maternal mortality, and is not protective for black mothers in the way that they are for white women.”
McIntosh went on to list other problems in the care of black mothers, such as “nurses not answering call bells” and “making slick, smart remarks, not responding to their questions.” And, of course, “structural racism” is included, because “all roads essentially lead to racism when you start looking at the literature.”
She continued by providing examples of “women impacted by maternal mortality,” such as:
- Felicia West died in 2019 of a stroke and she was told by a provider, “Ok, we will…it will be a while before I can see her because I have a lot of patients.”
- Kira Johnson died in 2016, leaving two children and a husband behind; died of postpartum hemorrhage and basically her husband was told, “Sir, your wife just isn’t a priority right now.”
McIntosh followed those statements by declaring “the system is rigged” because education and improved access to healthcare are not viable solutions. “There’s something inherently wrong with the system that’s not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women,” she said.
Near the conclusion of her presentation, McIntosh displayed “a little picture I found on Facebook” which depicts doctors in white coats and hoods standing over a woman in a bed. “We talk about the KKK with the police,” she explained, “but we need to also talk about the KKK in the hospitals and the doctors.”
Is this really what maternal health professionals are looking for in continuing nursing education? Is a nurse practitioner who doesn’t even practice in the field of obstetrical nursing qualified to present the “evidence” related to maternal health? Is displaying a repulsive KKK cartoon an effective method for opening a dialogue and “identifying solutions?” Of course not. Activists like McIntosh are using their platforms to promote divisive and inflammatory messages that only contribute to the pool of misinformation.
Have you seen an over-the-top presentation in your healthcare continuing education courses, virtual discussions, or professional seminars? Do No Harm wants to hear from you – securely and confidentially.
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