By Bill Parry
The city launched a new initiative last week that addresses the nearly 3,000 women who die or experience life-threatening events related to childbirth each year in the five boroughs.
In recognition of Human Rights Day Monday, the Department of Health announced new standards for respectful care at birth detailing health protections for pregnant women during and after childbirth.
“Each year, thousands of New Yorkers experience life-threatening complications due to childbirth and regretfully some even die,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said. “The NYC Standards for Respectful Care at Birth strongly asserts that a safe birthing experience is a human right. The ultimate goal is to promote health equity by fostering an environment where patients feel empowered to assert their rights and advocate for themselves, where providers listen and trust their patients, and providers and patients work as part of a team to make joint decisions.”
The Health Department will engage all 38 city maternity hospitals and other clinical providers along with more than 100 community-based organizations to integrate the new standards into their routine clinical care and community engagement. It focuses on six areas of respectful care at birth: education; informed consent; decision making; quality of care; and dignity and non-discrimination.
“Every mother deserves the highest quality care during and after each childbirth, regardless of race, color, or national origin, among other protected categories,” NYC Commission on Human Rights Chair and Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis said. “In New York City, pregnant individuals are protected by one of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the nation, the NYC Human Rights Law, which protects individuals against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, including hospitals and clinical settings.”
“We hope these new standards announced today remind pregnant New Yorkers of those strong protections and send a message to health care providers citywide that new and expecting mothers deserve respect and dignity in all aspects of their healthcare,” Malalis added.
The standards will be distributed on posters and brochures to hospitals and other clinical settings, community-based organizations and neighborhood health action centers citywide.
In New York City, black women are eight times more likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause than white women, while Asian and Latinas are also at elevated risk, according to the Health Department.
The city hopes the respectful care program will reduce structural racism and unconscious provider bias, which affects birth outcomes in communities of color.
“The stark and unacceptable racial and ethnic inequities in maternal deaths and serious health complications from birth in NYC have persisted for far too long,” Health Department Deputy Commissioner Dr. George Askew said. “No mother should ever worry about the quality of care they’ll receive during childbirth, nor that their voices won’t be heard. It’s only through a collaborative and sustainable effort with our hospital systems, community organizations and residents working together that we can ignite change.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr