Infant and maternal mortality rates have been on the rise in the U.S. since 2018. These rates have increased across all races and ethnicities; however, recent data reveal that Black and Brown mothers and babies are much more likely to die during this vulnerable period than their White counterparts. Such disparities speak volumes to our need to improve health equity locally and at large.
For a city like Nashville – the healthcare capital of the U.S. – these data are especially unacceptable.
Research from the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) shows the national maternal mortality rate for Black women was about three times higher than White women. NIHCM correlates the disparities to variation in quality of care, structural racism, implicit bias, and chronic conditions.
Similar findings are unfortunately found within Tennessee. The latest Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) Maternal Mortality Rate report showed numbers similar to the national rate, with Non-Hispanic Black women two and half times more likely to die than White women. The TDH report found the vast majority (89%) of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, with up to 24% being labeled as “having a good chance of being prevented.”
Racial disparities are also found among infant deaths. According to the Robert Wood Johnson County Rankings and Roadmaps, the infant mortality rate in Davidson County is seven deaths per 1,000 births in 2022. But a closer look shows Black infants in Davidson County are more likely to die than White or Hispanic infants: for every 1,000 births, there are 13 Black infant deaths, six Hispanic infant deaths, and four White infant deaths.
Too many infant deaths (one in four in Nashville) are related to unsafe sleep practices. According to a NashvilleHealth 2019 Infant Safe Sleep Report, which found that 66% of sleep-related infant deaths in Metropolitan Nashville were Black infants.
At NashvilleHealth, we are on a mission to identify the obstacles to health that our city faces and to work in a collective, collaborative, and coordinated way to improve the health and well-being of our community. That includes an intense focus on saving the lives of our mothers and babies.
Since 2016, we have worked with the Metro Public Health Department and Tennessee State University to decrease infant mortality and preterm births in Davidson County. Our efforts – and the tireless work of our many partners – have helped improve the infant mortality rate in Davidson County. But, we have a long way to go.
As the healthcare capital, we must do better to protect our infants and their mothers during and after pregnancy.
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