Alameda County program counters health industry racism experienced by Black expectant mothers

By Claudia Boyd-Barrett

Krista Hayes, 32, of Oakland was delighted when she found out she and her husband were pregnant with their first child together. But she was also scared.

She’d seen statistics showing that, as a Black woman in America, she was far more likely to die in childbirth, suffer labor complications or have a preterm baby than other women. She feared entrusting the momentous process of having a baby to a medical system that she felt had often treated her, her family members, and other Black people she knew with indifference and contempt.

“There has always been bias. Whether you talk about it or not, you feel it,” said Hayes. “As a Black person you move differently and you’re treated differently.”

So when an OB-GYN at Highland Hospital in Oakland suggested Hayes join a new county prenatal care program designed specifically for Black pregnant women, the expectant mom was intrigued. As a program participant, she’d attend regular group prenatal education sessions and get individual support from an all-Black health care team, including midwives, a lactation consultant, a doula, and a family resource specialist. The goal of the program, called BElovedBIRTH Black Centering, was to counter precisely the problems Hayes worried about.

The program, said Hayes, “sounded amazing.”

Research shows Hayes’ experience with medical care is not atypical. Black women are far more likely to report experiencing discrimination within the health care system than White women. And studies point to racism or unconscious bias in medical care as a key explanation for why Black women and infants fare so poorly compared to their White counterparts.

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