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Preventing deaths of pregnant Black women is the focus of a Sarasota panel Saturday

 The movie "Aftershock" has been screened more than 200 times around the country, as communities come together to talk about solutions.
The movie "Aftershock" has been screened more than 200 times around the country, as communities come together to talk about solutions.

A former president of the American College of OB-GYNs along with a patient, nurse and midwife will talk about how to prevent these deaths, following the screening of the documentary "Aftershock."

Black women are far more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts. A documentary screening at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota on Saturday delves into the issue and what can be done.

"Aftershock" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2022 and has been screened hundreds of times across the country, with medical experts discussing how a broad change is needed across society and health systems to prevent these deaths.

In the film, grieving family members talk about symptoms that were brushed off, concerns not taken seriously by doctors, and a general lack of care when Black women complained of weakness, pain, and shortness of breath.

"Shamony's death was a direct result of systemic racism," says Omari Maynard, the bereaved partner of Shamony Gibson, who died in a Brooklyn hospital at age 30, two weeks after giving birth to her son.

As Gibson struggled with a pulmonary blood clot, Maynard recounts the behavior of emergency crews: "They kept asking me, they kept asking my mother, is she on any drugs? Or anything like that? Was she taking any drugs? Like no, she doesn't take drugs."

In Florida, data from the state Department of Health has shown that Black women die during pregnancy, or within a year of giving birth, at a rate almost four times higher than white women.

"When you look at Florida, and other states in the Southeast, we really are not doing as well as we would like," said Washington Hill, a longtime OB-GYN in Sarasota.

 Panelists at the event Saturday
Panelists at the event Saturday

Hill will be the panel moderator on Saturday, discussing reasons for the gap and what can be done to improve outcomes.

"We'll be able to discuss what went right in the film, and clearly what went wrong. And what we're doing in our community, make sure that this does not happen here," said Hill.

Rural areas of Florida tend to have higher maternal mortality rates than more populated areas. One big challenge includes the lack of OB-GYNs in rural areas, known as "maternity deserts."

Hill said Sarasota County is doing well on preventing maternal mortality.

"We've done a lot of good things," said Hill, mentioning teams at area hospitals, Healthy Start, Centerplace Health, the Barancik Foundation, the Department of Health and other community partners in the health care system.

Some solutions have included treating any pregnant patient with hypertension within an hour of admission to a hospital, he said.

Also, knowing that many births are done via cesarean section and major surgery can results in complications weeks or months later, emergency room teams are asked to take an active role.

"We are working with our emergency room colleagues, so that they will ask a woman who comes in, 'Have you been pregnant in the last year?' " Hill said.

"The care that we provide is excellent, but there's always work to be done to improve it even further," Hill said.

Copyright 2024 WUSF 89.7

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.