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Spotlight on Maternal Mortality

By Tiffany Aquino

Ova Woman had the privilege of co-hosting a Spotlight on Maternal Mortality event with Healthcare.MN. The event, which was generously hosted by Everyday Miracles, featured four panelists who all work to tackle disparities in women’s health within their respective roles. Moderated by Shamayne Braman, a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, the event engaged panelists and audience members in a solutions oriented conversation on maternal mortality in the US.

In recent years, Minnesota has averaged about 10 maternal deaths per year. Though this is considered low for the national average – MN ranks sixth in the country for maternal health – profound disparities are still present. Dr. Cecilia Wachdorf, a Certified Nurse-Midwife and expert in maternal-child public health started the conversation around these numbers, saying “There were 10 maternal deaths in Minnesota last year. We know them all by name, we know what hospitals they were in, what happened, what clinicians were present.” She noted that with such small numbers, it was even more necessary to dig deeper into the context of each case, to identify system gaps and unspoken needs.

Audience members had the chance to hear panelist’s perspectives on the causes of maternal mortality and poor outcomes, the need for diversity and cultural competency in clinical settings, and the realities of engaging with pregnant women across a variety of contexts. A few key themes emerged over the course of the evening, and were discussed in greater depth during breakout sessions.

Of these themes, many circled back to the need for humility, cultural competency and authentic listening when engaging in patient care. Sameerah Bilal-Roby, Director of African American Babies Project and Coalition (AABC) Brains Are Built Campaign, offered salient wisdom, “Learn to listen. Build partnerships. If you listen to a mom, you’ll hear her mom, and you’ll hear her grandmother”, later adding that “Some of us have secrets within our own cultures that we may not want to share with you, so be ready for that too.”

All panelists agreed that listening and asking questions which were culturally sensitive were key to deeper understanding of barriers to care and achieving positive outcomes. Andrea Winter, Senior Director of Women's and Children’s Strategy at Park Nicollet Health Services, pointed out the need to go beyond this, and have resources in place to empower clinicians to ask questions in the first place. She emphasized that without having resources to resolve needs, many clinicians will avoid asking if they cannot follow up with help. “If I ask about barriers to care and they say yes, what do I do to help them? It’s all about asking the right questions, and then having the resources to solve those barriers.”

Panelists reiterated the importance of diversity amongst the workforce who are serving patients. This was echoed as key to building the networks of resources, identifying the best approaches to connecting with patients, and building authentic rapport with patients. Joyce Thompson, a doula in Minneapolis, provided insight into the negative effects of race based health disparities and systemic racism. Pivoting off of the conversation around listening, she noted the need for “more professionals of color, and others with bilingual language skills to help figure out how to reach and speak to people in the most beneficial ways possible.” Ms. Winter encouraged leaders to ask “does our workforce represent the people we serve? How can we encourage a broader group of applicants?”

The most encouraging part of the evening came at the end, when participants had the chance to dive deeper into conversation around what was learned and where we go from here. Groups had time to ask how they measure up in awareness and action around these issues, and to brainstorm ways to take action moving forward. We know this is just one piece of a much larger conversation around health equity and tackling disparities.  We hope to continue this conversation with key stakeholders in our community. Most importantly, we strive to take further action as a community in tackling these challenges.

 If you have suggestions for future events, please comment below or email connect@ovawoman.com. Ova Woman is dedicated to creating platforms for individuals to engage in solutions oriented conversations around improving women's health. 

1 comment

Feb 25, 2016 • Posted by Kathy Tuzinski

This was a great panel discussion. Thank you for organizing this. We need more open dialogue just like the kind that happened at this event.

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