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Caring for Black Mothers: How Altru is Focused on Access to Health Equity

Caring for Black Mothers: How Altru is Focused on Access to Health Equity

Each year, approximately 700 people die during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth in the United States. An additional 50,000 women live with severe pregnancy complications that cause serious consequences for their health. For Black women, the risk of maternal mortality can be high.

“It’s a sobering statistic that 70 percent of women who died during pregnancy are of either black or indigenous descent,” said Brendan Boe, MD, PharmD.

Maternal mortality affects Black women at three times the rate of white women due to factors including variation in quality of healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias.

At Altru, all providers undergo implicit bias training and are educated on healthcare disparities. Providers also have protocols for common pregnancy-related disorders to provide high-quality, evidence-based care to all patients.

“At Altru, we recognize the healthcare disparities of our black population and are actively working to improve the care of this population,” said Elizabeth Gray, MD. “We take these statistics as a motivation to provide better care to our community and continue to strive and work to end these racial disparities.”

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At Altru, care teams are focused on reducing maternal mortality for our patients throughout the region.

Providers at Altru travel to communities including Crookston, Cavalier, Thief River Falls, Grafton and Devils Lake to provide maternal care for patients. Keeping access to care close to home supports a healthy pregnancy.

“Whenever a patient calls in with any concerns, we take those concerns very seriously,” said Dr. Boe. “Shortness of breath, chest pain or other symptoms can’t be simply attributed to postpartum depression. As providers, we have to take our patient’s concerns very seriously.”

Black women often experience severe disease, like hypertensive disorders, when pregnant.

“Black women are also more likely to develop pregnancy-related complications like preeclampsia, which is a very dangerous condition for both mom and baby,” said Dr. Gray. “Across the country, black infants are more than twice as likely to die during infancy compared to white infants.

“These statistics are striking and cause alarm,” said Dr. Gray. “As healthcare providers, it is our responsibility to provide the best care possible to all our patients.”

The first step to building better relationships with patients and providers is communicating early and often.

“We’re trying to encourage early care for our patients,” said Dr. Boe. “We know our patients will have better outcomes when they have quicker access to care. We follow evidence-based practices and treat hypertensive disorders very aggressively.”

Increasing Safety During and After Birth

When mothers choose to give birth at Altru, our protocols are designed to keep them safe.

“We use evidence-based practice in order to decrease the risk of mortality or morbidity,” said Dr. Boe. “Our excellent NICU team helps our preterm newborns. We also have other specialists available to help us if we’re working on a complicated delivery.”

Follow-up is also crucial to maintain the health of mothers with a pregnancy disorder. Altru’s standard protocol is to have a visit with a provider one week after she is discharged.

“Other forms of communication such as MyChart messages, video visits or phone calls increase access for patients who may not be able to get to a hospital,” said Dr. Boe. “By increasing communication and access for patients, Altru is able to keep maternal mortality rates low.”

black pregnant woman touches stomach while man touches her shoulders.

Award Winning Maternity Care

Altru was recognized in the summer of 2021 by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota with a Blue Distinction® Centers+ (BDC+) for Maternity Care designation, as part of the Blue Distinction Specialty Care program.

To help address these gaps in care and to help ensure better health for mothers, The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association enhanced its quality evaluation for the Maternity Care program to address key factors driving the United States’ maternal health crisis, such as preventable or treatable pregnancy-related conditions, high utilization of Caesarean sections, and racial and ethnic disparities in maternal healthcare.

“We are proud to be a part of the Blue Distinction Centers,” said Janice Hamscher, chief nursing officer of Altru Health System. “We as a community know the high-quality care that our family medicine and OBGYN teams commit to every single patient. Thanks to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, we now have a way to share that our teams are providing high quality and cost-effective care.”

To learn more about Altru’s care for expecting mothers, visit Altru Pregnancy & Birth.