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Study: Black women far more likely than whites to die giving birth

For black women, childbirth can be a death sentence. African American women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes.

Capital News Service

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By Arianna Coghill and Kaytlin Nickens

Last fall, Tanca McCargo, a Chesterfield native, found out she was expecting her second child. McCargo, who already had a 3-year-old boy, discovered early on that her second pregnancy would be different. Her complications began when she experienced light bleeding.

“The morning after scheduling an appointment with my OB-GYN, I passed an actual blood clot,” McCargo said.

She was sent to the emergency room for a transvaginal ultrasound, which allowed doctors to examine her reproductive organs. They found that McCargo’s pregnancy was ectopic: Her fertilized egg had attached to her fallopian tubes instead of to her uterus.

McCargo, 22, faced a life-and-death dilemma. If she proceeded with the pregnancy, her fallopian tubes likely would rupture, causing internal bleeding and possibly her death.

There was only one other option. “I couldn’t keep the baby,” McCargo said. “That was the most heart-wrenching and traumatic experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

Three months into the pregnancy, McCargo decided to have an abortion. But even that did not go smoothly.

Doctors gave her chemotherapy injections to stop the fetus from growing, but they initially didn’t work. “Those injections made me feel horrible. I was nauseated almost all day every day,” McCargo said. “I experienced extreme fatigue, I slept less — it was just overall mentally and physically exhausting.”

Eventually, the abortion was performed. McCargo is still recovering from her ordeal. Currently, she is a stay-at-home mom caring for her son, Zakhai.

Her situation is not uncommon. For black women, childbirth can be a death sentence. Nationwide, African American women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That is true in Virginia as well.

Among white women in the commonwealth, there were 11 maternal deaths per 100,000 births last year, the nonprofit United Health Foundation reported. But among the state’s African American women, there were 36.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.

Virginia’s chief medical examiner highlighted the racial disparity in a report released last month.

“Black women in the United States and Virginia are known to suffer the greatest burden of pregnancy-associated death, a perplexing and consistently reported fact. In each of the 15 years of pregnancy-associated deaths reported in Virginia, the mortality ratio for Black women exceeded that for White women,” the report stated.

On the national stage, several black women have stepped forward with their own experiences of pregnancy-related challenges.

In an HBO series, tennis star Serena Williams, who gave birth to a daughter in 2017, described having complications during her pregnancy and labor. And in a Netflix special, the singer Beyoncé opened up about the difficulties she faced when pregnant with twins two years ago. She experienced preeclampsia, a sudden, potentially life-threatening increase in blood pressure.

Are black women treated differently?

Throughout her pregnancy, Jazmine Brown felt uneasy, filled with unexplainable emotions and pressure. She especially resented visiting her doctor.

Brown said the doctor treated her dismissively — not like the other patients.

Brown said she wasn’t sure whether the reason was that she was “young and black” or her insurance situation.

“I felt like they didn’t want me to be there — like I was inconveniencing them,” said Brown, who worked and attended Tidewater Community College at the time.

Brown’s job didn’t cover all of her medical expenses, so she turned to Medicaid. “When I was pregnant, I had Medicaid to pick up what my job insurance wouldn’t,” she said.

Brown said that she received a lot of backlash at her prenatal visits and that the pressure began to weigh on her. The situation came to a head when “we had an ultrasound appointment, and I was no more than 5 minutes late.”

Brown said she arrived at the building on time — but was late to the doctor’s office because she had to take the stairs.

“I was only 23 at the time, and she felt like it was OK to yell at us for being late, and I had never been late before,” Brown said.

The unsettling feeling led Brown to look into other doctors’ offices — where the waiting rooms were filled mostly with white middle-aged women. “I saw how they would talk to them differently,” Brown said.

She tried to find another OB-GYN, but the ones that would accept Medicaid had a waiting list. “In March, I looked, and they said they couldn’t see me until June — my baby came in July,” Brown said.

A month before Brown’s due date, she was diagnosed with preeclampsia.

As her due date approached, Brown received a little more attention, but she said her feelings were still hurt. “I will not settle for that treatment again,” she said. “I know they saw me just as a ‘poor little black girl.’”

Brown subsequently gave birth to a daughter, Jamie. Now 24 and living in the Virginia Beach area, Brown is a currently a stay-at-home mom and a student at Norfolk State University.

Research suggests that it wasn’t Brown’s imagination that she felt mistreated and agitated during her pregnancy. African Americans sometimes are treated differently by health care providers and experience greater pregnancy-related stress, studies show.

According to a 2016 study by the University of Virginia, black people are systemically undertreated for pain in relation to white people. Researchers found that a substantial number of white medical professionals and students held false beliefs about biological differences between black and white people.

For example, they might think black people have tougher skin or that their blood coagulates quicker than in white people.

Moreover, the nonprofit Seleni Institute found that black and Latina women are at a higher risk for mental health issues after pregnancy. Backing that up, the Icahn School of Medicine found that 44% percent of black women — versus 31% of white women — reported symptoms of depression after their pregnancy.

New law calls for ‘awareness and prevention’ about maternal deaths

Maternal mortality rates have alarmed members of the Virginia General Assembly.

At the start of the 2019 legislative session, Democratic Dels. Marcia Price of Newport News and Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg introduced a resolution “recognizing the maternal and infant mortality crisis in the United States.”

The resolution said:

  • The United States is the only industrialized country with a rising maternal mortality rate.
  • Maternal and infant mortality “is exacerbated by factors such as poverty, gender inequality, age, and multiple forms of discrimination, as well as factors such as lack of access to adequate health facilities and technology and lack of infrastructure.”
  • “Considerable racial disparities in pregnancy-related mortality exist, with deaths per live birth for black women nearly three times higher than such deaths for white women.”
  • “The root cause of these disparities is longstanding structural racism, which has contributed to poorer health outcomes among communities of color.”

The House Rules Committee never held a hearing or voted on the resolution. However, the General Assembly passed a bill requiring the Virginia Department of Health to review the rate of pregnancy-related deaths.

Under HB 2546, the department will establish the Maternal Death Review Team, which will include state health officials and outside experts.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Del. Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield and Democratic Del. Kaye Kory of Fairfax. It says the team will improve data collection and record keeping regarding maternal deaths and recommend ways “to increase awareness and prevention of and education about maternal deaths.”

On April 3, the General Assembly unanimously approved minor changes that Gov. Ralph Northam had recommended concerning HB 2546. It will take effect on July 1.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Belmont Golf Course renovations in motion in Lakeside

Site work started in early May as part of a $5 million project to revive Henrico County’s landmark public golf course in Lakeside.

RVAHub Staff

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Site work started in early May as part of a $5 million project to revive Henrico County’s landmark public golf course in Lakeside.

The Board of Supervisors approved a 20-year lease in December, allowing The First Tee of Greater Richmond to upgrade and operate the facility. The agreement ensures Belmont will remain affordable and accessible to the community while freeing the county from operating losses due to years of declining play.

“We’re just thrilled to see the project move forward,” said Neil Luther, director of Henrico’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “The last thing we wanted to see was to have the lease take effect and the property sit fallow for months and months on end because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“With work underway, it’s evident that the project is moving forward and will be done this time next year.”

Belmont is being restored in the tradition of architect A.W. Tillinghast, who designed the course – then-known as Hermitage Country Club – in 1917. It hosted the 1949 PGA Championship, which was won by Virginian Sam Snead.

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Under its new design, Belmont will feature 12 championship holes created by restoring existing holes 7 through 18. Holes 5 through 6 will be converted into a 35,000-square-foot putting course plus a six-hole, par-3 “short course.” Each hole will range from 80 to 170 yards and be based on Tillinghast holes throughout the country.

Existing holes 1 through 4 will be turned into a driving range, wedge range and short-game practice area. The project also includes an upgraded pro shop, improved concessions and space for youth programs.

“The course, when it comes back, is going to be brand new in terms of quality,” Luther said.

Brent Schneider, CEO of The First Tee of Greater Richmond, envisions Belmont being an inclusive place “where the history of American golf meets the future of American golf.” The nonprofit is a chapter of The First Tee, a national organization that promotes youth participation in golf and values, such as honesty and integrity.

“Our vision is to strengthen the character of our community, and we feel like, with this property, we’re going to be able to do that,” Schneider said.

“Whether you’ve been playing all your life or you’re brand new and want to come try it out, there’s an entry point at this facility for everyone,” he added.

The First Tee of Greater Richmond expects to invest $4.25 million in Belmont, with Henrico contributing $750,000 previously set aside for course improvements.

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Established in 1998, The First Tee of Greater Richmond operates the Tattersall Youth Development Center at The First Tee Chesterfield Golf Course in Chesterfield County and the Elson Redmond Memorial Driving Range in Richmond.

The group enlisted MacCurrach Golf and Love Golf Design as the contractor and architect, respectively, for Belmont. The first phase of work is focusing on restoring the championship holes, with renovated greens, improved bunkers and better drainage and irrigation.

Scot Sherman, lead architect with Love Golf Design, said the underground systems will be “light years beyond what was here before.”

“You see the turf. You see the bunkers, but you don’t often see what’s underneath,” he said.

With its improvements, Belmont will be designed to challenge experienced golfers and nurture the next generation of players. In addition to the community, the facilities will be available to Henrico’s high school golf teams, the Henrico Police Athletic League and other community groups.

“This is obviously a historic golf course, but there wasn’t a lot of variety here,” said Mark Love, a principal with Love Golf Design. “There wasn’t an opportunity to hit balls on the driving range and take lessons. All of the programing that First Tee does involves all aspects of the game. I think the kids have an opportunity to learn in a nonintimidating environment and work their way up to the bigger golf course, and I think that’s a great opportunity.”

The First Tee of Greater Richmond detailed its plans and answered questions from the community in a presentation delivered in March via YouTube due to the coronavirus.

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Downtown

Stoney administration proposes supported isolation for select COVID-19 positive cases

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

RVAHub Staff

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

Research shows that diligent testing, contact tracing and supported isolation will limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Boxing in the virus” in this manner requires that every COVID-19 positive patient effectively self-isolate, ensuring they do not spread the virus to family members, friends or the general public.

However, a prolonged, secure period of self-isolation is not possible for many Richmonders.

“The truth is that not all people are safer at home,” said the mayor. “Some aren’t fortunate enough to have a home large enough to isolate from loved ones.”

Using the CARES Act funding from the federal government made available last week by the state, the city will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with a demonstrated need to isolate securely a space to do so.

The city and Richmond City Health District will partner with the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care, a coalition of service providers with expertise in the intersection of physical security and human services due to their charge of aiding those experiencing homelessness.

Basic needs of those who choose to isolate, such as food and COVID-19 related primary care, will be funded through the Family Crisis Fund and safety net provider network.

The program will be facilitated by Richmond City Health District.

“Let me be clear: this program is specifically for those who cannot isolate safely, not a vacation for those who can,” said Mayor Stoney. “These COVID-19 patients will be cared for and sheltered for the good of themselves, their families, and the entire city.”

The Mayor ended with an appeal to the city’s communal sense of unity and compassion: “I know you’d want it for your family members; Richmond is my family. Let’s take care of each other.”

Upcoming testing events:

  • Friday, May 22 at Eastlawn Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 27 at Eastern Henrico Recreation Center and Southwood Apartments from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 30 at Martin Luther King Middle School from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Education

Henrico County Public Schools considering starting school before Labor Day in 2021

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. The proposal would apply to the 2021-2022 school year and going forward.

RVAHub Staff

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In early March, Henrico County Public Schools introduced the idea of a pre-Labor Day start to the 2021-22 school year. That was before the educational landscape shifted with HCPS’ closure to combat the coronavirus pandemic. At its May 14 work session, the Henrico School Board decided to revisit the issue and consider two calendar options for 2021-22 — one with a pre-Labor Day start and another with a more traditional post-Labor Day start.

Members of the public are invited to share their thoughts on the two options by taking a survey, open until June 3 at 8 a.m. The survey is available by going to HCPS’ website, henricoschools.us, and looking under “Hot Topics,” or by going to henricoschools.us/2021-22-calendar-options/.

The two calendar options under consideration for 2021-22 are:

  • Calendar Option A (pre-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 3, 2022.
  • Calendar Option B (traditional post-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 17, 2022.

At the work session, conducted in a virtual format, the Board also considered a third option, where students would attend school year-round, with intermittent breaks. After discussing the “extended school year” idea, the Board decided to eliminate that option, citing a desire for more research and collaboration with other school divisions in central Virginia.

While the first and last days of school differ, as well as student and staff holidays, all options would include the same number of instructional days.

Possible advantages of a pre-Labor Day start (Option A) include:

  • Provides two additional weeks of instruction before International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement testing, resulting in less time between the completion of testing and the end of the school year.
  • The academic calendar would more closely align with the start of fall extracurricular activities, as well as college and university schedules.
  • Provides at least a four-day break for Labor Day weekend.

Possible advantages of a post-Labor Day start (Option B) include:

  • Maintains traditional HCPS school calendar.
  • Keeps intact the construction schedule for the new J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs high schools and the expansion of Holladay Elementary School (a pre-Labor Day schedule would move up the construction deadline).
  • Maintains the length of the 2021 summer break for students and HCPS staff members (a pre-Labor Day start would require a one-time reduction of summer break).

There are no significant budgetary differences between the two options.

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

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