Race is a factor in healthcare and this group hopes to change the system

MIAMI – One in three residents in the United States self-identifies as a minority, and despite significant advances in civil rights, race remains a major factor in the quality of healthcare for this population, including access, treatment and beneficial outcomes.

That includes African-American women with high-risk pregnancies, which became the motivation for a Miami mom to organize an effort to support these women and change the system around them.

“How are you feeling,” Jarkesha Calloway, founder of NICU Embrace asked Elrita Ferguson as the young mom wept in her arms. “How are your emotions right now?” she asked.

Ferguson responded: “They’re everywhere.”

Ferguson prematurely gave birth to twin boys, Jakeem and Jakobi. Jakeem didn’t survive.

“Everyone is surprised, we’re waiting on the autopsy,” Ferguson said through tears.

Her pain resonated with the women in the living room of Calloway’s Miami home. All have faced complications during pregnancy and felt lost in their time of crisis.

“I went to the nurse and said ‘Can you tell me something’ and when they did come they were telling me all these words I didn’t understand what they were saying,” said LaTevia Ward.

It’s the reason Calloway and her sister-in-law, nurse LaToya Johnson, teamed up to create an organization called NICU Embrace.

“We understand that doctors are there to take care of the babies and diagnose the babies. We understand that nurses are there to back them up and help those babies survive but who helps us as parents,” Calloway said.

Her sister-in-law said their mission has another vital purpose.

“We already know there’s a disparity between African-Americans getting prenatal care, getting regular medical care, so we’re dealing with women who haven’t had that one-on-one contact with doctors and now they’re being thrust into this contact in the most critical situation,” Johnson said.

Terry Adirim, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University said studies show a higher rate of low and very low birth weight babies in the black community.

“It’s true for maternal mortality as well. Far more black women have complications and die from childbirth than white women and we see these disparities throughout the healthcare system,” Adirim said.

She said the keys to addressing the problem include expanding healthcare coverage, improving the number and capacity of providers in underserved communities and increasing training among health care professionals.

As she hugged Ferguson, Calloway expressed the hope of being the catalyst to change.

“We’re here, we’re going to walk through this with you,” she assured. “Thank you so much, I appreciate it so much,” Ferguson replied.

Beyond pre-and post-natal care, The National Academy of Medicine found that ethnic patients are less likely to be given appropriate cardiac care and less likely to receive the best treatments for stroke, cancer, AIDS and kidney disease, even with comparable status, income and severity of conditions.

The NICU Embrace Organization is holding its first “Meet & Greet” event via Zoom call on Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information email nicuembrace@gmail.com

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