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New programming explores the impacts of structural racism on the health of Black mothers

New addition to the History and Health; Equitable Access to Care allows the public and VCU community to delve into the history of maternal health and efforts to make it more equitable for all mothers.

Illustration of pregnant woman holding her stomach. The maternal health education module aims to give readers the opportunity to discuss ways to reduce disparities and learn how VCU Health is serving these communities, with the understanding of these historical inequities. (Getty Images)

By Sara McCloskey

Structural racism negatively affects the health outcomes of Black people across the United States, playing a complex role in accessing health care options and quality care.

As part of the Virginia Commonwealth University Office of Health Equity’s efforts to provide more opportunities to learn about these health disparities, the History and Health; Equitable Access to Care has released a new learning module focused on maternal health.

"We hope that community members and healthcare professionals will feel equipped to discuss opportunities to reduce these disparities in maternal healthcare and will in turn enhance the care provided,” said Sheryl L. Garland, Chief of Health Impact for the VCU Health System and executive director of the VCU Office of Health Equity.

This educational module gives members of the public, Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health community opportunities for in-depth dialogue about what contributes to the racial disparities in maternal health outcomes as well as how the history of our institution has influenced these and other current health disparities.

Take the maternal health learning module

Racism’s long-lasting impact on accessing quality care

The legacy of historic mistrust in the health care system, in part due to implicit and explicit biases from medical professionals, continues to create hesitancy for some patients to follow up with doctor’s appointments, thus potentially delaying important treatment.

Some examples of this bias include failing to listen to Black mothers about their experiences and concerns as well as rating the birthing pain of Black mothers lower than their white counterparts, which attributes to lower quality of care.

The impacts of these complex issues are also documented in unfortunate maternal mortality outcomes. In Virginia, Black women who are pregnant or have recently given birth have a more than two times higher rate of dying compared to white woman.

Unwavering support to combat racial inequities in health care

The Maternal Health module aims to identify the main contributing factors that lead to Black Virginians having poorer access to health care and lower quality of experiences in the health care system. Readers discuss opportunities to reduce disparities and learn how VCU Health is working to better serve these communities, with the understanding of these historical inequities.

"We want participants to understand and reflect upon how the extreme racial disparities evident in maternal health directly impacts the quality, outcomes and access to health care of the people in the communities that VCU Health serves," Garland said.

The module is broken up into three sections, which cover the topics of:
  • Contributing factors to unequal outcomes
  • Racial disparities in maternal health
  • A story of inequity in maternal health

The programming was put together with insights from the VCU Health Human Lab, Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative, Virginia Department of Health Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Maternal Mortality Review Team and VCU Health Department of Patient Centered Services.

This module as well as both the History and Health; Equitable Access to Care and Racial Equity series give all participants the opportunity to earn a digital badge for participating. In addition, participants can satisfy annual VCU Health System DEI learning requirements and receive VCU Health continuing education credit by completing online learning modules.