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Women report verbal abuse, discrimination during maternal care

The race of a patient was often a point of discrimination, with nearly 30% of Black, multiracial and Hispanic women reporting mistreatment.
Posted at 8:00 PM, Aug 22, 2023

"Disappointing" is what CDC Reproductive Health Director Dr. Wanda Barfield calls the results of a new survey in which 1 in 5 women say they were mistreated during maternal care. That mistreatment includes verbal abuse and invasions of physical privacy. The race, age, and the weight of a patient were often points of discrimination, with nearly 30% of Black, multiracial and Hispanic women reporting mistreatment and 30% of those with no insurance or public insurance reporting mistreatment as well.

"There is a level of dismissal to specific groups in health care," Dr. Bayo Curry Winchell, a medical director and patients' rights advocate, told Scripps News.

Winchell says she isn't surprised by the findings. According to the CDC, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. 

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"It's a blend of systemic racism, unconscious bias, the lack of investment in diversity and training of health care professionals, as well as the need for more representation," she continued.

"As a Black female physician, I almost died during childbirth and I share this story because my hope is that it can help others," Winchell said, saying her pleas for help during childbirth were ignored, despite her position as a doctor.

Twenty percent of those surveyed say they didn't ask questions or discuss concerns during maternal care because they were afraid the provider would think they were being difficult.

The CDC is encouraging hospitals to slow down and really listen, and to embrace the use of doulas, who can often serve as a voice for hesitant patients.

"They will be a part of the answer. Health care professionals who are really acutely aware of their own unconscious biases as well as being able to hear, because if you are not listening to your patient, you may not be listening to that doula as well," Winchell concluded.