Virginia works to reduce black maternal mortality rate

By Keya Vakil
April 19, 2019

Black women in Virginia die during or near childbirth more than three times as often as women from any other race.

In recent years, this staggering discrepancy prompted health systems to create programs to get mothers to doctors sooner, sign them up for federal benefits and improve their social circumstances.

Virginia legislators also set aside $125,000 for a new Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative in 2017 to try and reduce the racial gaps in maternal mortality.

This year, the General Assembly took it another step further, approving legislation that aims to improve the collection of data on Virginia’s maternal mortality rate.

Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-63) was a key supporter of the new system of data collection and believes gathering information will help the state get to the source of the issue.

As for what those issues may be, experts believe the high rate of infant mortality among black women is due to a mix of implicit biases, a mistrust of the medical system and lack of access to good care.

Studies, including one at the University of Virginia, have also revealed that doctors are less likely to believe that black people feel pain and less inclined to prescribe them the same levels of pain medication.

One idea to improve care is expanding the use of doulas, trained professionals who provide physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during, and after childbirth.

Freddy Mejia, from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a non-profit public policy organization, told WVTF that he believed doulas could help reduce the rates of black maternal mortality.

He also said that using doulas could improve the health outcomes of black women as they begin their families, and pushed for Virginia to offer Medicaid reimbursement for these services.

Despite the depth of the issue in Virginia, the Commonwealth actually ranks 15th best in maternal mortality rates in the U.S., which indicates how severe the issue is around the country.

New York, Minnesota and Oregon have Medicaid programs that reimburse the costs of doulas for low-income women. But there’s a long road before Virginia could become the fourth state to implement such a program.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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