Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso has allocated $11 million in capital funds toward a new “state of the art” birthing center at NYC Health+Hospitals/Woodhull Hospital in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“Regardless of intention or passion, one person can’t enact long-lasting solutions without the support of a small army that’s just as passionate and has the expertise to see those impactful changes through,” Reynoso said when the funding was announced on July 19. “I found a true partner in my fight against maternal mortality inequities in our city’s public health system.”
The beep is investing his entire $45 million capital budget in maternal health care services at three different public hospitals in Brooklyn, and Woodhull is just the first to receive the funds. Maternal mortality has been a longstanding issue for Reynoso, who first sponsored legislation dedicated to improving maternal health outcomes while he was on the New York City Council and assembled a Maternal Health Task Force four months into his tenure as borough president.
Black birthing people in New York City are significantly more likely to die or experience severe health issues due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications than their white counterparts. Quality healthcare is often inaccessible for families, and many people report being ignored or discriminated against by hospitals and healthcare workers.
Brooklyn had the second-highest birthrate in the five boroughs in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, with 89.7 pregnancies per 1,000 women of childbearing age, and had the highest number of deaths — 15 — attributed to pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum complications. East New York and Brownsville had some of the highest numbers of infant mortality of all New York City neighborhoods, and Brooklyn as a whole had an infant mortality rate of 6.7% — representing 1,300 deaths.
Two years ago, 26-year-old Sha-Asia Semple died during childbirth at Woodhull, though her baby survived an emergency c-section. Last spring, THE CITY reported that the anesthesiologist who treated Semple, Dr. Dmitry Anatolevich Shelchkov, was under investigation for not following recommended protocols.
In addition to funding the new birth center, the $11 million will fund renovations six existing labor and delivery rooms and upgrades to triage rooms and the post-anesthesia care unit. The new birth center will include larger operating rooms for cesarean births and an innovative obstetrics simulation lab.
“[Reynoso] has spoken often of not only how he envisions the facilities looking, but the benefit of the shared decision-making model of integrative midwifery and physician care he hopes will continue to be utilized at Woodhull and in other spaces,” said Helena Grant, director of midwifery at Woodhull. “We share his vision for the community at Woodhull and we know that this contribution will provide birthing people greater and more positive ownership of their health, their pregnancy, and the outcomes.”
More than 1,000 babies were delivered at Woodhull in 2021, according to city data. The borough’s first hospital to be designated “baby-friendly,” meaning it follows guidelines that promote mother-baby bonding and breastfeeding after birth, Woodhull debuted their Family-Centered Cesarean Birth Program earlier this year and boasts a particularly low rate of cesarean births.
Local councilmembers Chi Ossé and Jennifer Gutiérrez and Council Speaker Adrienne Adams also contributed a total of nearly $700,000 for upgrades to medical equipment at Woodhull.
“As we fight for equity across this city, investing in the spaces that keep black and brown women healthy and promote real preventative care has to be at the forefront,” Gutiérrez said in a statement. “A state-of-the-art birthing center at Woodhull will make a profound difference in the lives of our community and will make huge strides in addressing maternal mortality. I recently gave birth at Woodhull, so I know firsthand how much their patients, midwives, nurses, and doctors will benefit from this important investment.”