Racial and ethnic inequities in health are a national crisis requiring engagement across a range of factors, including the health care workforce. Racial inequities in maternal and infant health are an increasing focus of attention in the wake of rising rates of maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States. Efforts to achieve racial equity in childbirth should include attention to the nurses who provide care before and during pregnancy, at childbirth, and postpartum.
Global outrage followed the murder of George Floyd by now former Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officers. The outrage was targeted at police brutality—police conduct that dehumanizes through the use of physical, emotional, or sexual violence as well as verbal and psychological intimidation, regardless of conscious intent—one of the oldest forms of structural racism.1 In decrying police brutality, many public health organizations issued statements declaring racism a public health crisis, with promises of change. However, change is stymied if we do not critically evaluate how the discipline (scholarship, conceptual frameworks, methodologies), organizations (governmental, nonprofit, and private institutions that seek to promote population health), and public health professionals (in academia or practice) contribute to structural racism that is manifested in police brutality, among many other outcomes.
Racial disparities in health have existed in the United States for centuries.1 In 1899, WEB Du Bois noted the prevalence of poor health among black people, describing it as an important indicator of societal racial inequality.2 Black Americans continue to have substantially worse health and shorter life expectancies than their white counterparts.1,3 Particularly in health services research, evidence of black-white disparities in health and health care costs have been acknowledged for decades. However, much of this work has been divorced from the social context of deeply seated racial oppression (read: racism) that has created it.
There is empirical evidence that the quality of interpersonal care patients receive varies dramatically along racial and ethnic lines, with African American people often reporting much lower quality of care than their white counterparts. Improving the interpersonal relationship between clinicians and patients has been identified as one way to improve quality of care. Specifically, research has identified that patients feel more satisfied with the care that they receive from clinicians with whom they share a racial identity. However, little is known about how clinicians provide racially concordant care. The goal of this analysis was to identify the key components of high-quality care that were most salient for African American birthworkers providing perinatal care to African American patients.
Pernicious racial disparities in birth outcomes in the United States have their roots in structural racism—the systematic allocation of opportunities and resources based on race. These inequities, caused by systemic factors which contribute to lower quality of care, negatively impact the lives of Blacks/African Americans. The development of new maternity care models hold potential to reduce disparities and costs by focusing on the root cause of racism. Roots Community Birth Center is an African American-owned, midwife-led freestanding birth center in North Minneapolis. Roots provides a culturally-centered model of care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. The culturally-centered care model utilized by Roots Community Birth Center offers culturally-centered care that is community based, accepts Medicaid beneficiaries, and provides prenatal and postpartum visits that are customized to the needs of the birthing individual. Like other institutions, this birth center faces the financial challenges associated with maternity care payment models and inadequate Medicaid reimbursement, challenges that directly interfere with the center's culturally-centered care model which advocates for longer prenatal visits and close follow-up postpartum. The birth center model of care has proven effective; over the last four years Roots has had 284 families with zero preterm births. The culturally-centered care model used by Roots is not currently well-supported by maternity care payment models that were designed in large part to reflect typical care provided by obstetricians and hospitals.