Last week, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger convened a roundtable with maternal and community health professionals from across Central Virginia to discuss the ongoing crisis in Black maternal health, the challenges maternal & community healthcare providers are facing in the sixth month of the pandemic, and what additional support they would like to see in the next federal relief package.
In Virginia, Black and Latino communities are infected, hospitalized, and killed by COVID-19 at a disproportionately high rate compared to other groups. Black Virginians are succumbing to COVID-19 at a rate 9 percent higher than what would be typical for their percentage of the total population. Many new cases in Central Virginia are appearing in minority communities – Latinos account for 38 percent of all new cases in the Rappahannock Health District, which covers two of the Seventh District’s ten counties.
In addition to the current crisis of coronavirus, Black communities in Virginia and across the country have long suffered from shocking disparities in maternal and infant mortality. The infant mortality rate for babies born to Black mothers is more than 2.3 times higher than that of babies born to white women, and Black woman have a maternal mortality rate more than 2.5 times higher than that of white women. This horrific inequity based on race holds steady across all levels of income and education.
“Minority communities in Virginia are facing twin health crises – the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19, and the longstanding and horrific disparity in maternal and infant health. Today’s roundtable was a valuable opportunity to hear directly from the health providers who are fighting these battles on the ground in our communities,” said Spanberger. “Americans pay more for healthcare than almost anywhere else in the world, but we have the unique and terrible distinction of being a developed country where maternal mortality rates are actually getting worse, not better. No American mother should have to fear for her life or her child’s life because of her race. As a member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, I’m working in the U.S. House to close the gap in maternal health outcomes once and for all. I’m also deeply concerned about the disproportionate numbers of infection, hospitalization, and death that we are seeing among minority communities during this pandemic. As scientists and public health experts work toward a vaccine, elected officials must work directly with the health professionals who have the most experience serving minority communities in Central Virginia. We must collaborate and learn from their successes, in order to make progress against this devastating pandemic.”
During the roundtable, Spanberger spoke with experts from the Virginia Midwives Alliance, Birth in Color RVA, Urban Baby Beginnings, Virginia Rural Health Association, Times Up Now, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.
In addition to maternal & infant mortality and the impacts of COVID-19, the discussion covered strategies for ensuring that minority communities can take advantage of any future vaccines at a high rate, what can be done to recruit and retain a more diverse healthcare workforce, and what the federal & state governments can be doing to support wraparound care for pregnant women.
On the eve of the pandemic, Spanberger helped introduce the Black maternal health “Momnibus,” a legislative package that encompassed historic investments in community organizations that are working to improve Black maternal health outcomes, efforts to improve data collection and increase the study of the unique health risks facing minority women, digital tools like telehealth that can reach underserved areas, and efforts to recruit and train a diverse perinatal workforce.
Spanberger has fought to ensure that free community clinics in Virginia receive their fair share of the relief funding allocated in the CARES Act. Community clinics have long served Black and Latino communities, placing them on the frontline of the pandemic. In June she joined Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA-01) to push HHS Secretary Azar to more quickly distributed CARES Act funds to free community clinics, facilities which are an essential part of the healthcare safety net for hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians.