NEWARK, NJ — Systemic racism is the root cause for the state’s maternal healthcare disparities, according to New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy. 

An African American woman in New Jersey is nearly five times more likely than a white woman to die of pregnancy-related complications. An African American baby is three times more likely than a white baby to die before their first birthday, Murphy said.

University Hospital hosted a panel discussion with U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, M.D, M.P.H for a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Listening Session. Healthcare providers, state and local leaders and other stakeholders joined the panel as well.

Sign Up for Newark Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Adams said he plans to engage in maternal mortality and morbidity listening sessions across the country as well, with Newark being the first.

“Despite our incredible and innovative healthcare system, New Jersey’s maternal mortality rates are among the worst in the nation,” Murphy said. “Thirty seven women die on average for every 100,000 live births in New Jersey compared to 20 nationally.”

Furthermore, New Jersey ranks 47th in the nation for maternal deaths.

“The fact still remains that a black woman with a Ph.D. is more likely to die in the U.S. due to pregnancy related complications than a white woman who dropped out of high school,” Adams said.

“I think we still also view race as a risk factor instead of racism as a risk factor,” said Nastassia Davis, RN. “Being black is not putting you at risk. It’s racism because you are black that is putting you at risk.”

Murphy said the administration has spent the last two years raising alarm on the state’s maternal and infant health crisis, which is no new issue in itself. "Nurture New Jersey" was therefore launched on Maternal Health Awareness Day with the goal of making New Jersey the safest place in the United States to deliver a baby. 

“Nurture New Jersey” involves a collaborative effort of 18 agencies across the state such as the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Treasury and the Department of Environmental Protection. Family festivals are also held to bring resources directly to urban centers.

Family festivals have served over 3,400 families across Paterson, Trenton, Camden, Newark and Atlantic City. Jersey City will host a family festival this Saturday, Jan. 11 at the Gilligan Student Union Building.

Governor Phil Murphy signed 13 pieces of legislation relating to maternal and infant health last year, including ending Medicaid reimbursement for early elective caesarean-sections and providing Medicaid coverage for doula care.

According to Jill Wodnick, doula and childbirth educator, a birth doula can improve patient satisfaction, outcomes and reduce costs associated with childbirth. It is supportive and trusted partner who offers more navigation, resources and stand up for high quality maternal care.

Adams said healthcare providers need to focus on better cultural sensitivity, communication and engagement with patients. He applauded Murphy for calling out structural bias and racism. 

“If we can do a better job of listening, then we can certainly achieve our goals of recognizing the problems sooner and addressing the issues that are causing maternal mortality,” he said.

University Hospital is part of one of the nation's leading academic medical centers and is the Level 1 Trauma Center for Northern New Jersey. Located at University Heights in Newark, University Hospital is a principal teaching hospital of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and a regional resource for advanced services across many medical specialties.