The Disparity of Black Women in American Healthcare
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
On April 17, 2020, a woman by the name Amber Rose Isaac posted what would be her final tweet regarding her experience in a New York City hospital, referring to the doctors caring for her as “incompetent”.
According to her partner, Bruce McIntyre, Isaac, a soon to be first-time mother, did not believe that she would survive her delivery. Throughout her pregnancy, her platelet levels had steadily decreased. However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, Isaac was only able to meet with doctors through video chats rather than being seen in person despite being seven months pregnant. It was not until her condition worsened that she was able to finally be admitted into the hospital. Amber had developed hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count, otherwise known as HELLP syndrome, and would days later pass away after giving birth to her son.
The story of Amber Rose Isaac is not an uncommon one, particularly as it relates to African-American women in the healthcare system. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in comparison to their white counterparts, “black women in the United States are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes.” In New York City alone, between 2006 and 2010, black women were 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications than white women. A national study of the five most common causes of maternal death showed that black women were “two to three times more likely to die than white women who had the same condition.” What is most unfortunate about these studies, is that many of these deaths are preventable, according to the CDC.
Studies have shown that healthcare providers tend to spend less time with African-American patients and are less likely to take their concerns and complaints seriously. When patients voice their concerns, many are underestimated, dismissed, or blatantly ignored. Such was the case with tennis star Serena Williams who faced life-threatening complications postpartum despite having several complaints. Unfortunately, her story is similar to the experiences of many black women.
These discrepancies, however, are not limited to the maternal sector of the healthcare system. The current Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed inequities in the system with the virus affecting predominately African-American communities much more. According to an article published by CNN, African-Americans are “dying at disproportionately higher rates compared to all other ethnicities.” There is also a scarcity of access to mental health treatment in black communities and black women are more likely to face mental health related issues. Yet, because there is a stigma, a lack of resources and education surrounding mental health, the result is black women not seeking out, or not being able to receive, treatment. It is also not uncommon for black women to be misdiagnosed when they do go in for treatment. So whether it is primary care, maternity, or mental health, when it comes to healthcare, African-Americans — and black women in particular — are receiving the short end of the stick. All of these factors lead to an overall distrust of the healthcare system.
This is where Shades of Wellness steps in.
We want to provide a safe space for African-American women to receive the necessary education and resources regarding healthcare. Our goal here is to uplift and change the outlook on health for black women. We have created a platform where black women can access health coaching, fitness classes, nutrition support, and be partnered with healthcare providers to get the necessary care they need to live healthy physical and mental lifestyles. Most importantly, we want to battle discrimination and inequality in the healthcare system so that black women are able to receive the same amount of help. No longer should healthcare professionals treat black women differently due to racial and sexist stereotypes and misconceptions. No longer should black women visit their doctors only to leave feeling mistreated, or ignored. No longer should black women lose their lives because a system that is meant to save lives has failed them.
We want black women to be heard.
Sources: 1. The Guardian - https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/02/amber-rose-isaac-new-york-childbirth-death
2. CNN - https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/20/opinions/protect-mother-pregnancy-williams-opinion/index.html
3. Rewire - https://rewire.news/article/2020/01/17/structural-racism-in-medicine-worsens-the-health-of-black-women-and-infants/
4. NPR - https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568948782/black-mothers-keep-dying-after-giving-birth-shalon-irvings-story-explains-why
5. CNN - https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/08/us/coronavirus-pandemic-race-impact-trnd/index.html