By Atifa Robinson
Health Care Community Advocate from Kenosha, WI
I hear a lot of talk about health care these days – whether we should have Medicare or Obamacare, single payer or private pay, choice, no-choice or something in between. And I hear a lot of presidential candidates talking about what Americans don’t have, should have and might have if they become president.
No matter what plan we end up with, I’d like something simpler: healthy moms and babies, and a health care system that works for everyone. It’s not so much to ask – or is it?
As a community health advocate, I know that African American women face health challenges that their white counterparts don’t. Whether it’s high rates of maternal or infant mortality, Black women face significant medical challenges. And new motherhood for this population isn’t always as joyous as it could be.
These moms tell me they are also plagued by chronic stress-stress in the workplace from unequal opportunities, stress from the burdens they carry at home, and stress compounded by medical advice that’s well-intentioned, but culturally insensitive. When you look at it from this perspective, you can understand why these under-resourced families sometimes struggle.
It’s my job to look at the factors that affect families’ health, and to advocate for policies that help moms overcome the odds. The good news is that we have wonderful resources in Kenosha – and dedicated clinicians – but we need to do more to link us together. It’s not just about adding dollars, it’s about creating a coordinated system that can wrap women in the care they need.
For example, we need to shorten the time it takes for people receiving state assistance to see a doctor – and make it easier for those doctors to share data between them. And we need to consider that compassionate care might mean doing creative things like sending services – doulas, midwives and parenting coaches – to people’s homes so that we meet parents where they are, instead of adding to their stress by asking them to meet us where it’s easiest.
And it would help to have politicians in Washington who are aligned with our priorities.
Right now, President Trump’s efforts to cut funding for reproductive and maternal health care is threatening to magnify the disparities we see in Kenosha, and I worry that if Trump stays in office and repeals the Affordable Care Act, the women in my community will lose the minimal coverage we have. I also worry that if we don’t acknowledge discrimination in health care, we will continue to ignore it at the expense of women in my community and in communities around the country.
We need a president who will fight bias, and who has the will and experience to do something about it. I think I’ve found him.
The man is Mike Bloomberg, and not only has he pledged to reduce black maternal mortality, but he has promised to require bias training for all medical professionals so that we don’t exacerbate existing inequality with continued ignorance. He’s promised to increase the pipeline of doctors and nurses of color, so that more communities have providers attuned to their needs. And he’s promised to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers, so that they can get the care they need before, during and after birth. It’s music to my ears.
You might wonder what a mayor of New York City knows about these issues, but as I learned from introducing him when he came to Milwaukee, Mike put in place a Nurse-Family Partnership in New York City that sent nurses into the homes of low-income, first-time mothers. And on his watch, the rate of Black infant mortality fell by 17%. These are achievements to celebrate and they’re the kind of positive trend lines I’d like to see in every community across the nation. Mike may not be a health care professional, but he knows what he’s doing.
I am not doing this job for the money. I’m doing it because I had parents who instilled in me that we must lead by example to build a better community. And because as the mother of four daughters – two of them born premature – I know that the kind of support you have around you can mean all the difference between a healthy baby and a different outcome.
I will always do my part to elevate the well-being of women and children, and come November, I hope to have a partner in the White House who’ll be doing it, too.