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‘I felt so alone’: Las Vegas black women highlight health disparities

Updated April 19, 2024 - 9:49 am

When Tiara Flynn gave birth while on active duty at Edwards Air Force Base in California, she felt alone. Her husband was deployed, and she felt like the area was a Black maternal health desert, she said.

“What I found to be most difficult was finding that community, finding people that could support me, finding people that could help me along this journey,” Flynn said during a panel about Black maternal health on Wednesday. “I was just desperately seeking information and community to assist me since I felt so alone.”

That’s when she discovered what a doula was, and she found one 45 minutes away to help her. Later, Flynn started Phenomenal Mama, a full-spectrum doula services practice in Las Vegas to help families throughout their entire reproductive journeys and help people feel that sense of community.

Flynn was one of several Las Vegas women who joined a panel discussion hosted by the Biden-Harris campaign at the Doolittle Senior Center to highlight disparities in Black maternal health and actions that need to be taken to close those gaps.

Health problems

Black women are three times more likely to die from complications related to childbirth than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Marguerite Brathwaite, an OB-GYN in Las Vegas who owns the practice Innovative Women’s Care, said 80 percent of those deaths are preventable. Health care access, underlying health conditions, structural racism and implicit biases are all contributions to the disparities in Black maternal morbidity, Brathwaite said.

Women of color on the panel as well as in the audience shared their experiences of feeling unheard or ignored by their doctors, as well as uncomfortable when their health care providers didn’t look like them.

One 2022 Pew Research poll found a large majority of Black women have had negative health experiences and would prefer a Black health care provider, and a study from the Journal of Perinatal Education found that doulas have a positive influence on labor and birth outcomes.

Brathwaite said women come to her office because they are looking for Black doctors. They want to know that they will be well taken care of and have good health outcomes, she said. They want to hear, “I got you,” from their doctors, Brathwaite said.

Shenakwa Hawkins, a family nurse practitioner and owner of Care With Purpose Medical Center in North Las Vegas, said the language she uses with her patients is important to make them feel like an individual and make it feel like home.

“That term quality health care is extremely important because you can take care of someone and not care for someone,” Hawkins said.

Infertility challenges

In addition to disparities in mortality rates, Black women are almost twice as likely as white women to suffer from infertility, yet they are less likely to seek help for infertility, according to the Guardian. In 2024, the cost of in vitro fertilization can range from $15,000 to $30,000, according to Forbes.

Panelists spoke about the Biden administration’s efforts to tackle the Black maternal health crisis, such as promising to keep the Affordable Care Act in place to make sure people are insured. The administration released the Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis, which includes more than 50 actions the federal government can take, such as investments in rural health care facilities and expanded access to doulas and midwives.

On a state level, the Legislature passed bills to expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum care from 60 days after birth to 12 months, which can help, as many Black women don’t die immediately from childbirth but will have complications later, Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong said.

Summers-Armstrong, who is running for Las Vegas City Council, also successfully sponsored a bill in 2021 that provided Medicaid coverage for doula services, which she expanded in 2023.

Tanya Flanagan, a health care advocate and Democratic candidate for Assembly, who moderated the panel held during Black Maternal Health Week, wants to do more for rural health to make sure Nevada residents living in rural areas have access to care, and she wants to push for a bill to make it easier for people with cancer or other diseases to preserve their eggs so they can later have children after treatment.

Flanagan has had breast cancer three times, and she did not have many options to preserve her eggs unless she had money to pay in order to be a mom after treatment. Someone should not be robbed of motherhood just because they’re diagnosed with something, she said.

Joi Holliday Sparrow, a Las Vegas resident who attended the event and shared her story about in vitro fertility treatment, said she would like to see more conversations statewide about IVF protections and accessibility.

“I know that we can’t just wake up today and fund it,” she said. “I get it, but we can at least have a law that will form a focus group that will help start figuring out what does it look like.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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