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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.

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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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Henrico taps Sheila Minor to lead Department of Finance

Minor comes to Henrico from the city of Colonial Heights, where she has served as finance director since June 2017.

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Henrico County has appointed Sheila S. Minor director of the Department of Finance, effective Saturday, December 18th.

Minor comes to Henrico from the city of Colonial Heights, where she has served as finance director since June 2017.

Prior to her service with Colonial Heights, Minor worked as director of finance for Prince George County and as a budget and revenue analyst for Chesterfield County. She earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Tech. Minor is a certified public accountant, a certified public finance officer, and a certified government finance manager. She and her husband David have two daughters.

“Henrico County is fortunate to have such a truly experienced professional join our ranks,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said.

As Henrico’s finance director, Minor will head an agency with more than 160 employees and a budget of $15.1 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Finance comprises the divisions of real estate assessment, treasury, management and budget, accounting, purchasing and revenue. Among its scope of duties, the department prepares and administers the county’s operating and capital budgets and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report; reviews, assesses, bills and collects taxes, licenses and fees; assesses real estate and certain personal property; and purchases goods and services for general government departments and Henrico County Public Schools.

Minor also will serve as commissioner of revenue and treasurer for the county, as prescribed by the Code of Virginia.

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VDH announces new QR codes to verify COVID-19 vaccination status

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

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The Virginia Department of Health today announced the addition of QR codes – a type of barcode that can be scanned with smartphones – to Virginia COVID-19 vaccination records.

QR codes – short for “quick response” – are commonly used in retail, logistics, and other sectors. The technology allows anyone to show proof of vaccination with a digital or printed QR code instead of a paper card, and without the need for an app. As more and more employers and businesses respond to calls by President Biden and Governor Northam to require that employees and customers be vaccinated, QR codes will help improve the consistency and security of vaccination information while protecting individual privacy.

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

QR codes contain the same information as paper records, but in a format that offers greater security and efficiency. Because the QR code is digitally signed by the Virginia Department of Health, it cannot be altered or forged. Information from QR codes is only available if and when the individual chooses to share it. Businesses and employers that choose to verify an individual’s vaccination status can scan QR codes with the free SMART Health Verifier App. Individuals do not need to download an app to use QR codes.

Virginia is now the fifth U.S. state to adopt the SMART Health format for QR codes, empowering individuals with trustworthy and verifiable copies of their vaccination records in digital or paper form using open, interoperable standards. The framework and standards were developed by VCI, a coalition of more than 800 public and private organizations – including The Mayo Clinic, Boston Children’s Hospital, Microsoft, MITRE, and The Commons Project Foundation.

QR codes are available to anyone whose vaccination record includes a working phone number and is in the Virginia Immunization Information System (VIIS). Nearly all doses administered in Virginia are reported to VIIS, including pharmacies, physician offices, health department clinics, federally qualified health centers, and community vaccination centers. Some doses administered outside Virginia to Virginia residents may be in VIIS. Doses administered directly by federal agencies such as the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs are not reported to VIIS. A person whose record cannot be retrieved automatically may call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) for assistance.

With more than 10.2 million doses of vaccine administered so far in Virginia, more than 58% of the population is fully vaccinated. Everyone 12 or older is eligible to be vaccinated now. To find free vaccines nearby, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages.

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Va. Supreme Court clears way for removal of Lee monument in Richmond

In two opinions issued Thursday, the Court denied challenges by a small group of neighbors and an heir to the family that initially granted the land for the monument.

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By Ned Oliver

The Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way Thursday for Gov. Ralph Northam to remove the Lee Monument in Richmond, one of the largest Confederate memorials in the state.

In two opinions issued Thursday, the Court denied challenges by a small group of neighbors and an heir to the family that initially granted the land for the monument.

Northam announced he planned to take down the state-owned memorial in June 2020.

This is a breaking news update and will be updated as the situation develops.

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