R.I. KIDS COUNT: Racial disparities remain in maternal and children’s health

PROVIDENCE – Racial and ethnic disparities still exist in maternal health in Rhode Island, according to a new report by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

The report, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Maternal, Infant, and Young Children’s Health in Rhode Island,” highlights the disparities in maternal, infant and child health that disproportionately affect women and children of color. Beginning prior to conception, these disparities continue through pregnancy and endanger children’s life after birth.

Starting from health insurance access, women of color are more likely to be uninsured and be covered by RIte Care/Medicaid before their pregnancy than white women in Rhode Island. Between 2016 and 2020, 21% of Hispanic/Latina women and 8% of non-Hispanic Black women did not have insurance compared with only 4% of non-Hispanic white women, the report found.

Women of color were also more likely to receive delayed prenatal care: between 2016 and 2020 in Rhode Island, 24% of American Indian and Alaskan Native women, 22% of Black women, 18% of Hispanic women and 18% of Asian women received delayed prenatal care, compared with 13% of white women.

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Racial and ethnic disparities also affect maternal death. Black women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women, the report found.

“Pervasive racial bias and unequal treatment of Black women and birthing people in the health care system often result in inadequate treatment for pain and lead to significant unintended outcomes and disparities,” the report reads. “This, coupled with stress from racism and racial discrimination, contribute to the unacceptable health outcomes among Black women and their infants.”

While infant mortality has declined nationally across all racial and ethnic groups, disparities remain, the report found. The Black infant mortality rate remains the highest of any racial or ethnic group; in Rhode Island, between 2016 and 2020, the Black infant mortality rate was 9.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, more than three times the white infant mortality rate.

“The health of Black and Brown mothers and babies are at risk in Rhode Island,” Paige Clausius-Parks, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, said in a statement. “The story that this data tells is heavy and painful and should mobilize each and every person to call on our policymakers to act now. This Issue Brief clearly outlines where disparities exist, the root causes of these disparities, and the steps we need to take to address this legacy of inequity.”

The report offers several recommendations for lawmakers to address the disparities, including providing equitable access to comprehensive reproductive health care, supporting the recruitment, development and retention of a racially, culturally and linguistically representative and competent workforce, and improving data collection. Read the full report here.

“Grassroots maternal and child health advocates have been doing the work to address these unacceptable disparities in health outcomes for a long time,” said Kaitlyn Rabb, policy analyst at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “The voices of those with lived experiences tells more than numbers and data can show – that this crisis is directly impacting many women and families of color in Rhode Island. We must listen to, advocate for and uplift these efforts because they know what is needed to reduce these disparities and move Rhode Island in the right direction.”

Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Chiappa@PBN.com