Wyandanch, NY – A resolution introduced by Legislator Jason Richberg establishing a task force to study maternal morbidity and mortality rates in Suffolk County, with a specific focus on communities of color and aftercare, was unanimously approved by the Suffolk County Legislature at its general meeting on December 15.
IR1973-2020 establishes a Task Force consisting of sixteen members, including healthcare experts, doctors, nurses, doulas and midwives, educators, and community members who have been impacted by maternal morbidity to address the disparate impacts of maternal morbidity and maternal mortality in Suffolk County.
Maternal morbidity is considered any health condition attributed to and/or aggravated by pregnancy and childbirth that has a negative impact on a woman's wellbeing, such as: diabetes, mental illness, anemia, infections, and other perinatal complications. The most severe complications of pregnancy, generally referred to as severe maternal morbidity (“SMM”), affect more than 65,000 women in the US every year and include unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health.
“Maternal morbidity and mortality rates are widely considered key indicators of the health of a society,” said Legislator Richberg. “I was shocked to learn that the World Health Organization's latest maternal mortality numbers rank the US 55th among developed countries, with the highest rates being in communities of color. Research has shown that minorities receive inferior health care even when taking into account income, education and insurance status, with implicit bias playing a large part. I know that there are no easy answers, but I think it is important that we do everything we can to understand why this is the case and promote programs and services that will help lower those numbers. My hope is that this task force will help shine a light on the issue and provide real-world solutions that we as elected officials can then bring to the public.”
The Task Force will study the challenges facing the County with respect to maternal morbidity and mortality and the disparate impacts on families of color in Suffolk County, and issue a written report specifically addressing the maternal morbidity and mortality rates for women of color, the maternal morbidity and mortality rates in majority minority regions of the County versus other areas, and the number of deaths associated with improper aftercare, and provide recommendations to monitor and reduce the rates of maternal morbidity and mortality in Suffolk.
“It is unacceptable that more women are dying of pregnancy-related complications in America--the wealthiest nation in the world--than any other developed country,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Department of Health Commissioner. “It is right that we start the conversation at the local level and begin by acknowledging that many of those who are dying are women of color.”
“Suffolk County is showing itself as a leader in passing this legislation,” said Sara Topping, Executive Director of the East End Birth Network. “It is a huge step in addressing the disproportionately high maternal mortality rates for Black and Indigenous birthing people on Long Island, especially during a pandemic where pregnant people are bearing the brunt of an over-taxed health care system. For me, healthier mothers mean healthier babies and healthier communities and I applaud Legislator Richberg and the Legislature for passing this legislation.”
“We are dealing with two pandemics, one being racism which is also a public health crisis,” said Shanequa Levin, Founder & CEO of the Women's Diversity Network. “Our country has some of the highest maternal mortality rates regardless of race, but for Black women the rate is the highest. The Women’s Diversity Network has been working to address this issue and is proud to stand with Legislator Richberg as he commits to tackling this issue in Suffolk County."
“It’s no secret that Black women have the highest mortality rates when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth,” said Carla E. Simpson, Advocacy and Public Policy Committee Chair for the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Suffolk County Chapter. “It is imperative a task force in Suffolk County be created to ensure we protect the health and safety of Suffolk residents, specifically women of color, and improve maternal outcomes. We thank Legislator Richberg for his fortitude to act and shed light on a national issue in our local community. We are eager to learn more and assist with the work of this task force as needed.”