Eight words haunt Charles Johnson.
“Your wife just isn’t a priority right now.”
Six years ago, Johnson and his wife, Kira, walked into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for a scheduled C-section. After 17 minutes in surgery, baby Langston was born healthy. Fourteen hours later, Kira was dead.
In between those life-altering events, Charles begged for help on Kira’s behalf only to be told by a nurse that she wasn’t a priority.
The family has a wrongful death lawsuit against the surgeon going to trial this week. After reviewing pre-trial testimony revealing a reported culture of racism at the hospital, Johnson’s legal team filed a separate civil rights lawsuit against Cedars-Sinai.
Given that yesterday was Mother’s Day and this week is Maternal Health Week, it feels important to address the issue of systemic racism in health care today.
Medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Here in California, Black women are four to six times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications compared to White women.
Typically, when we talk about racist policy and structures in health care, we point to educational opportunities in compliance with California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act (Senate Bill 464, 2020). Diversity Science has a great interactive online course developed with Rachel Hardeman.
But what Kira’s story reminds us of is that no matter how much training you go through as an individual, your effectiveness will be limited if your facility, agency or organization operates within a culture of racism. The work is still worth doing. The more you know, the better you will do.
Though it is frustrating to feel as if you’re swimming against the tide in your anti-racism work, you aren’t alone. We are a community committed to creating an environment where every family can achieve their chest/breastfeeding goals, which requires a focus on equity throughout the continuum of care.
Thank you for fighting this fight with us. If you know of specific equity initiatives taking place in support of maternal health outcomes, please let us know. Sharing what’s working in your community helps everyone throughout the state.