We Know Why Infant Mortality is High
Among Blacks in Atlantic County, New Jersey
New Jersey’s first lady, Tammy Murphy, launched a campaign to fight against infant mortality in Black communities. Studies found that in Atlantic City and Camden, the mortality rate was about fifty percent for either an African American mother or infant. In Atlantic County, there are only two hospitals in which an expecting mother can give birth, Shore Medical or Atlanticare.
AHEART ministries has been fighting against infant mortality since 2008. In fact, the CEO, Robbin Hargrove has been advocating for young, single mothers too. It was a complete surprise, when she had to forgo the joy of welcoming her first grandchild into the family and become an AHEART advocate for her own daughter, that she realized why infant mortality is high among Blacks in Atlantic County. During her daughter’s birthing experience at Shore Medical Center, she encountered bias treatment, negligence, minimal care, fear tactics, and a lack of cultural sensitivity.
The best part of Mrs. Hargrove’s daughter’s hospital experience was the preliminary tour of the maternity ward, where the staff was extremely friendly and welcoming. She was there to be induced since the baby’s due date had passed. The doctor started to induce her but made her wait to restart the process because he wanted to perform a C-section on another patient. On the second day, she had a device inserted to speed up the process of opening her cervix and when it fell out, they called for the nurse. The nurse ran to get the night shift doctor, but he didn’t want to check on her, so he told the nurse to check her instead saying, “I trust you.”
On the third day, she was beginning to respond to treatment, yet due to the delay, she didn’t meet the time-frame to deliver vaginally. The baby was delivered via C-section in about fifteen minutes however, she was forced to undergo a two-hour long process as the doctor used her body to train an intern without her consent.
Shore’s maternity website states that “new parents and their family members will have the opportunity to receive current information and personalized instruction on how to care for themselves and their newborn babies,” but the Hargrove family felt that vital information was withheld from them. The baby, having a common condition called jaundice, had a hard time adjusting to laying under the phototherapy lights. The new mother was discouraged from holding him, and at times scolded for removing him to comfort or nurse. She received very little information about how to place the protective face mask on her baby to ensure his eyesight wouldn’t be damaged while under the lights. When she mishandled the fragile mask too many times, she became surprisingly aware of a limit to how many masks she could use. It’s still unapparent why the nurses weren’t taking care of this themselves.
Wearing only a diaper, the baby became cold and shivered uncontrollably, even with the air conditioner off. As Miss Hargrove’s new mom instincts kicked in, she again was discouraged from holding her baby to comfort him. It wasn’t until a guest asked about a special phototherapy blanket called the bili-blanket, that the Hargrove family received it. The special blanket afforded the mom and baby to bond, kept him warm, and even eased him to sleep – allowing the family to place him under the phototherapy lights (which the hospital claims is the strongest treatment). Due to the stress of the phototherapy lights, his blood sugar levels were a concern also, but as his stress decreased, so did his blood sugar.
As they look back on their experience, the Hargrove family felt like the staff was rushing them to leave the hospital. Once the baby was delivered and they switched rooms, a nurse notified them that they only had to wait twenty-four hours and could then sign themselves out of the hospital. If you visit Shore’s maternity webpage, you can see a 360 view of one of their postpartum delivery rooms which are supposed to be spacious and home-like, however, Miss Hargrove was moved into a room that small and cramped.
Tension between the nurses and family continued to increase as the new mom asked for pain medicine and was told that she couldn’t have it until she walked. Unfortunately, many doctors believe that African American women have a high tolerance of pain and don’t need much pain medicine. However, pain is pain and should be treated seriously. Later on, the nurses told the family that the mother would have to be discharged, despite having a pain level of seven, a persistent headache, being severely swollen, and never having a bowel movement. She was told that if she wanted to stay, then she would have to call her insurance to get approved. It seemed as if the nurses didn’t want to take care of her anymore. They tried to intimidate her by telling her that if the insurance didn’t approve her, she’d have an expensive bill to pay. They suggested she nest, meaning she would be discharged and receive no medical assistance, but could still stay with her baby. When the family finally called the insurance company, they were asked why the hospital wasn’t calling since they can only approve requests from the hospital. Of course, they were approved by their insurance.
The Hargrove family believes that Black families have the highest rate of infant mortality because the nurses make the majority of healthcare decisions instead of qualified doctors. The baby had to have multiple tests to check his bilirubin levels and was brought out to the hallway at the nurse’s station for the tests. One of the reasons a new mask was needed for the phototherapy lights was due to the baby vomiting. Vomit was all over the baby’s mask and bedding. When a nurse was called, she decided that the baby would most likely continue to vomit and that in an hour she would change his bedding. When the family complained, the nurse told them to wash the mask (which was made out of a flimsy paper-like material) and then she proceeded to flip over the bedding, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. When Mrs. Hargrove called for a supervisor, they gave her new face masks, bedding, and they even began bringing the baby into their Special Care Nursery for testing. However, the supervisor wasn’t concerned about cleanliness either. While visiting the family, the supervisor dropped their baby blanket on the floor and because it only hit her shoe, she deemed it clean enough to wrap a newborn baby.
Despite delivering days ago, the doctor hadn’t visited them or the baby. Out of the five pediatricians on staff, one came to visit them when she first gave birth. The Hargrove’s figured the doctors were busy with patients, but there were many empty rooms. When asked why, they were told that the doctors have a choice of which patients they see. When the pediatrician walked in, he seemed insulted to be summoned. The doctor explained that while he could discharge the mother, the baby needed to stay. Mrs. Hargrove asked at what bilirubin level could the baby go home, and the answer was fourteen. He stated that they would check the level again since the baby hadn’t been checked in twelve hours. However, the doctor never looked at his newborn patient’s chart because baby had been checked two hours ago and had a bilirubin level of fifteen. This is another reason why Black infants are dying at an alarming rate. Due to this mishap, the doctor allowed the mother and baby to be discharged.
The problems didn’t end there. Mrs. Hargrove noticed a wheelchair in the hallway and thought the nurses were preparing for discharge. When Miss Hargrove was discharged, she slowly and painfully walked herself to the elevator and to the front door. When asked about a wheelchair, the nurse that rode the elevator with her said that it depends if the patient needs one. The nurse never asked Miss Hargrove if one was needed, never walked her to the front door, never checked if there was a carseat, or even checked to make sure the carseat was securely fastened. Part of the discharge instructions were to see their personal pediatrician the next day to check the baby’s bilirubin level. When they did, they baby’s levels had decreased without the phototherapy treatment. They later received a call from the hospital that the baby was discharged without having a hearing test. The doctor never thoroughly read his patient’s chart.
We all put our trust in the hands of the hospital personnel with the belief that they will care for us and our babies, and provide us with the essential information, medicines, and products needed have a healthy birth. When doctors can decide on who they care for, there can be patients who are left without proper care. When the nurses run the hospital instead of doctors, families can have experiences like the Hargroves. Hospital staff can carelessly provide minimal treatment to unsuspecting patients without hospital advocates.
Mrs. Hargrove believes personal and private doulas who will advocate for each mother are severely needed. They’re needed to provide their medical knowledge of safe medicines, enforce clean practices, and offer an authoritative presence to combat the fear tactics of manipulative, uncaring staff. She’s afraid to think what would have happened if she and her knowledgeable family members weren’t there. As the CEO of AHEART, she plans to create a special hospital advocate program where families will have assistance while they are giving birth.
If you are a concerned citizen or want to get in touch with AHEART please email us at AHEARTministries609@gmail.com or call 1.800.376.4616, ext 1.