Black Women for Wellness discuss ‘healthcare desert’
Centinela Hospital Medical Center, Inglewood stopped offering maternity care services Oct. 25, leaving local expectant families without immediate access to prenatal, birthing or postnatal healthcare.
Black Women for Wellness (BWW) held a town hall meeting last week, offering a forum for community members to build solidarity and share their thoughts on the closure and the impact on their families. They also gathered in small groups to brainstorm solutions and explore strategies for improved health outcomes in the Inglewood community.
“This is the beginning of a conversation, this is not the end,” said Jan Robinson Flint, BWW executive director. “One of the things I heard as I walked around the room was fear. Sometimes it was articulated as concern, other times abandonment.”
Robinson-Flint reminded Town Hall participants that they have power. Together with the community, BWW plans to figure out how to leverage that power to address the lack of local maternity care.
“We can make a difference,” she said. “So don’t be consumed by fear, because, what is that – ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’?”
The closure of maternity wards is a trend happening in several states across the nation recently, Robinson-Flint said. Hospitals are closing rather than improving their quality of care, as they feel it is not profitable to keep maternity services.
“When will our communities start fighting back?” she asked.
Centinela is owned by Prime Healthcare Services. The facility will soon be transferring maternity care to another hospital affiliated with Prime — St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood — which is 10.9 miles away.
According to a Prime Healthcare spokesperson, the Inglewood hospital has seen a declining demand for labor and delivery services. A public notice issued by the hospital said the closure of the unit at Centinela would affect “17 perinatal beds, nine NICU beds, and the newborn nursery.”
Officials with Prime said the reason they’re closing is that there isn’t enough demand in the area for a maternity ward. They also said they want to dedicate resources to other areas, such as mental health.
BWW believes that every community is deserving of quality and dignified healthcare. The organization opposes the closure and wants Prime to be accountable to the community and work to improve the quality of care and services provided.
Many believe that the closure was the result of the death of April Valentine earlier this year. Her child survived as she gave birth, but there were complications. An investigation into Valentine’s death was held by the California Department of Public Health. The hospital was fined $75,000.
BWW is currently conducting canvassing in the community—they’ve spoken to 600 residents so far, by phone and door-to-door. Through the survey efforts, the organization is making sure residents are informed about the closure; receive information about alternative resources; express any trouble they would have accessing other facilities; and relay how they have interacted with the hospital in the past.
BWW and their supporters are considering various, creative plans to tackle the issue, including engaging local businesses as well as the healthcare workers at Centinela.
“How do we make sure that they all know it is not ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” Robinson-Flint said, noting that BWW wants to make sure everyone comes out a winner in this situation.
“One of the things that frustrates me is the level of accountability,” she added. “Who has power?”
Complaints had been filed with state and local elected officials, but as Centinela is a private entity and an as for-profit institution, there are fewer levers of government control. Only non-profit facilities have government rules and regulations they must follow.
“As a community, we can demand accountability from our administrations, from our government,” Robinson-Flint said.
In a related story last week, State Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the results of an investigation regarding the anti-bias training for pregnancy care providers.
California law requires health facilities to train staff in overcoming unconscious racial biases that could harm pregnant patients of color.
Studies, including a recent one by the California Department of Public Health, have found that women of color die of pregnancy-related complications at much higher rates than White Women in the state.
In California, Black women make up 5% of those pregnant, but account for 21% of the total pregnancy-related deaths.
“The disparity in maternal death rates in California reflects the deep and shameful racial inequities in our healthcare system,” said Bonta. “Implicit bias has been shown to affect interactions between patients and providers, provider treatment decisions, adherence to treatments and actual health outcomes.”
Bonta announced his office’s findings in Los Angeles with LA Supervisor and former state Sen. Holly Mitchell, author of Senate Bill 464, the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act. Enacted in 2019, it mandated training on implicit bias.
“I’ve stood alongside a coalition of advocates, medical professionals and Black women, who have been working for years to get meaningful legislation passed to save lives,” said Mitchell.
The law required health providers who treat women before or after pregnancy to take evidence-based anti-implicit bias training starting Jan. 1, 2020. But when the department sought an update from 258 facilities in August 2021, a “substantial number” had not completed or even begun training staff, the agency noted in its report.
But after the Department of Justice investigation began, providers rate of compliance improved dramatically. By July 2022, a reported 242 facilities and 81.4% of the applicable personnel at the facilities had complied with the law.
The high rate of maternal deaths exists across all income levels for Black women. In fact, Black women who practice healthy behaviors during pregnancy have worse perinatal outcomes than White women who do not, according to a report released earlier this year by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the UCSF Center for Health Equity.