Hospitals are at a crossroads.
At a time where they have better technology to help patients than ever before, the maternal mortality rate is also the highest it has been in recent memory.
more than 1,200 women died of maternal causes in the United States in 2021.
In 2020 that number was 861 and in 2019 it was 754. Black and brown women comprise most of those deaths, as they are two to three times more likely to experience complications during birth.
Experts and researchers say a major reason for the disparity is generational trauma, where distrust of the health care system can contribute to anxiety and depression, which leads to worse outcomes for both mother and child.
“We have a society that has been treating our Black patients in a way that is inequitable and that’s because of things like historical racism, systemic racism, [and] economical biases,” said Dr. Jennifer Savitski, chair of the OB-GYN Department at Cleveland Clinic Akron General hospital in Ohio.
Dr. Savitski says where a white patient might feel comfortable receiving care from a health care provider, Black and brown patients might feel apprehensive since they are entrusting their health and their baby’s health to a system they might feel is not working in their best interest.
To help make these patients feel more comfortable, Cleveland Clinic Akron General, along with four other hospitals across the nation, have started TeamBirth, a new initiative to allow minority patients to understand their care better. The initiative includes detailed conversations about why doctors and nurses suggest certain procedures and protocols, while allowing the patients to determine what they are comfortable with.
“There is something about that communication and that decision-making when the provider and patient are doing that together that their outcomes are improving,” said Dr. Savitski. “That creates a whole new foundation of trust and dignity for those patients, and we know lack of trust is a major driver for why Black pregnant patients do not seek care or do not engage in care.”
Cleveland Clinic Akron General first implemented TeamBirth in October 2022. Since then, Dr. Savitski says patient satisfaction survey results have improved considerably within the hospital. One of those patients is Madelynn Young, who has been under Dr. Savitski’s supervision as she awaits the birth of her baby girl.
“When I had my first child, he came 12 weeks early and [doctors and nurses] didn’t even hand me my baby,” said Young. “So now I’m hearing I’m going to get to hold her as long as there’s nothing crazy. Hearing all that is good.”
“I think [TeamBirth] will eventually [save lives], yes,” said Dr. Savitski. “But I can say without a doubt, that we are improving the relationships we have with our patients and our patients are feeling like they are in control of their own health care.”