Every pregnant woman wants to give birth safely to a healthy baby. But in New Jersey, statistics show that we need to work harder to ensure that pregnancies and deliveries are healthy and that infants thrive in the first year of life.
New Jersey recently launched several initiatives to stop what state leaders say is a crisis in maternal and infant healthcare that has hit especially hard in the African American community. These efforts largely focus on outreach and education, which can go a long way in addressing the problem.
Women need information to be empowered to access care before, during and after their pregnancies. For our part, healthcare providers need to make sure our patients know what is available to them; we must listen to — and hear — their concerns.
Reversing the Rankings
Overall, our state is a leader in access to quality healthcare, so its rankings in maternal mortality are particularly jarring. New Jersey is in the bottom five among states, with an average of 37 pregnancy-related deaths for every 100,000 live births, according to the state. That's nearly twice the national average in a country that only ranks 46th in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Jersey's health department says the state has the widest racial disparity in maternal health in the nation: An African American woman is five times more likely to die due to pregnancy complications than a white woman, and an African American infant is three times more likely to die in his or her first year of life than a white baby.
Too often women are late in getting care for chronic conditions that contribute to high-risk pregnancies, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Early intervention is key; physicians and healthcare providers who care for pregnant women need to make sure women know what prevention and treatment is available prior to and early on in their pregnancies.
What We Can Do
New Jersey has launched an awareness campaign under the banner of Nurture NJ, and lawmakers recently passed a raft of measures aimed at promoting outreach to women, including mandated patient questionnaires, fact sheets and other information on available services.
Hospitals, clinics and healthcare providers need to embrace the effort and help patients navigate the plethora of information out there. We need to engage community groups, churches, civic organization and others in fostering trust in the medical community.
Efforts like the health fair hosted by Holy Name Medical Center during Black History Month are important; we need more of them. The event featured free screenings for the community for diabetes and high blood pressure, medication review and other practical tools. Seminars provided critical information in promoting wellness.
Gynecologists frequently are on the front line for women's health: Patients often see us before and more regularly than their primary care physicians. We need to take the time to talk to patients and enlist others to help, such as doulas, certified nurse-midwives and other medical professionals.
Patients, please talk to us. Bring us your questions and your concerns. We want to help you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, a safe delivery and a healthy baby.
Work remains in ensuring that members of minority groups are represented in the healthcare professions. And all healthcare providers need to look for implicit biases and roadblocks that may stunt access to care, like language barriers or a lack of specialists who treat patients with Medicaid.
We have the tools, we have the will; New Jersey can make progress in maternal and infant health.
For referral to a Holy Name Medical Partners obstetrician/gynecologist or primary care provider, visit HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.