‘It’s about bringing awareness’: Brookdale Hospital hosts panel on Black maternal health

NY: One Brooklyn Health hosts panel discussing Black maternal health
A panel of health care providers from One Brooklyn Health and Brookdale Hospital discussed the disparities when it comes to Black maternal health during a May 1 panel.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

One Brooklyn Health organized a panel at Brookdale Hospital in Brownsville on May 1 to discuss disparities in Black maternal health care.

Panelists included Dr. Cyrus McCalla, chair of obstetrics and women’s health and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Brookdale; family resource specialist Joann Suggs; lactation consultant Ashley Orenshteyn; OB-GYN Dr. Cadesa Ramarrack; midwife Jaime Celestin-Edwards; and Sharon Martin, nurse manager of the mother-baby labor and delivery floor.

Participants not only discussed the challenges that Black women face when it comes to maternal health care, but also offered advice and resources to empower and educate pregnant women of color.

The maternal mortality rates in the United States are alarmingly high compared to other high-income countries. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on May 2, the maternal mortality rate in 2022 was 22.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. Although this represents a decrease from the 2021 rate of 32.9, the data shows that Black women are still three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

In 2022, there were 49.5 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births among Black women. In New York City, Black women are up to seven times more likely to die during childbirth compared to white women.

Black women are still more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts, panelists said.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The reasons are multifold, panelists said, and include a lack of health insurance, access to proper maternal care, health disparities, low income, and institutionalized racism.

One Brooklyn Health has introduced several programs to address maternal health disparities, such as Centering Pregnancy, which pairs eight to 12 moms with similar due dates, creating a “buddy system” for support, and Healthy Families, which offers home-based services to support expectant families and new parents. Another program, HealthySteps, provides early childhood development support to families in the pediatric primary care office.

Brookdale Hospital also has a level-three neonatal intensive care unit (ICU), where premature babies are cared for around the clock by board-certified neonatologists.

More than half of the babies born at Brookdale Hospital are delivered with the support of a midwife.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Panelists then took the opportunity to highlight the different ways Brookdale Hospital creates a safer birthing experience for Black and brown women.

More than half of the babies born at Brookdale are delivered with the support of a midwife, Dr. McCalla told the crowd.

“A number of studies have shown that care with midwives decreases mortality, decreases morbidity, decreases Caesarean section rate,” he said. “My goal is to get our midwives out in the community seeing our patients, bonding with our patients, developing that relationship which not only will help in terms of maternal morbidity and mortality, but also improve the health of the family, the mothers, and their children.”

It also helps to have specialists on board for high-risk pregnancies, Dr. McCalla said. “That’s where I put on my high-risk OB hat. It’s very important that as part of any organization, you have individuals who are capable of managing those serious cases.” 

Celestin-Edwards, one of the four midwives at the Centering Pregnancy program, said meeting patients at “their level” and building a close relationship is important. Besides providing prenatal care, the midwives also direct their patients to resources like General Educational Development (GED) and job programs. 

“We try to help them in whatever areas they might be lacking so that we can help them out,” Celestin-Edwards said. “We care, and we want [our patients] to be better tomorrow than they are today.”

Schana Dadd-Smith shared her prenatal care experience at Brookdale Hospital.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

For her part, Suggs enrolls expecting moms and dads into the Healthy Families program, which offers home-based services for three and up to five years after the birth of the baby. Specially-trained staff members meet with the family in their home and assess the family situation, after which participants will receive referrals and services tailored to their specific needs and goals.

“It’s free, non judgmental, and it’s a home-visiting service,” Suggs said. “In the fifth year we do a graduation service. Your baby is now five years old, that’s their first graduation you get to witness. But also in that five-year period, the goals that the family may have had for themselves, they have five years of support to achieve these goals. So I tell them the graduation service is for the whole family, not just the children, because the parents as well have now achieved the goals that they need for themselves to have a happy, healthy household.”

Schana Dadd-Smith also spoke about her high-risk pregnancy at age 47 — and her experience at Brookdale Hospital.

“Everything was looked at, every possibility,” she said, describing her prenatal experience at the hospital as “awesome.”

“One, I was over 40, the color of my skin, I checked all the boxes,” Dadd-Smith said. “Everything was checked and [Brookdale Hospital] made sure that I had a safe delivery — both me and the baby.”

Brooklyn Borough Deputy President Reverend Kimberly Council told Brooklyn Paper that Black maternal mortality in New York State, particularly in New York City, remains a “very serious issue.”

Council pointed to the work that Borough President Antonio Reynoso has done to make Black maternal health a priority within his administration.

In his first year in office, Reynoso allocated his entire capital budget of $45 million to create state-of-the-art neonatal units at three public hospitals in Brooklyn and created a maternal mortality task force that meets once a month. Council explained that Reynoso is also pushing for more midwives, looking into mental health care since Brooklyn doesn’t have an emotional respite center, and has partnered with several organizations.

Brooklyn Borough Deputy President Reverend Kimberly Council spoke of the BP’s past and present work on Black maternal health care.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Last month, he and his office hosted a “community baby shower” for expectant mothers in Brownsville.

“It’s about bringing awareness, it’s about education,” Council said. “It’s about having the conversation with women, with medical professionals to make sure that people are doing everything that they can to make sure that Black women [and] Latino women do not die as they’re giving birth.”