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1 in 5 women report mistreatment from medical staff during pregnancy

A pregnant woman stands for a portrait in Dallas on May 18. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 20% of women reported experiences of mistreatment during maternal care.
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AP
A pregnant woman stands for a portrait in Dallas on May 18. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 20% of women reported experiences of mistreatment during maternal care.

One in five women experienced mistreatment while receiving medical care for their most recent pregnancy, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The women reported signs of mistreatment, such as being verbally abused, having their requests for help go unanswered, having their physical privacy infringed upon and receiving threats to withhold treatment.

About 2,400 women were surveyed. Of the 20% of women who said they were mistreated, 30% were Black, 29% were Hispanic, 27% were multiracial, 19% were white, 18% were American Indian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 15% were Asian.

Twenty-eight percent of women without medical insurance and 26% with public insurance said they were mistreated, compared to 16% with private insurance.

"As a doctor, mother, and Black woman, it is disheartening to hear how common mistreatment is and to see differences in mistreatment and discrimination during maternity care based on things like race and insurance coverage," CDC Division of Reproductive Health Director Wanda Barfield said. "We know that racism and discrimination can lead to delays in treatment and sometimes tragic and preventable deaths."

Additionally, nearly a third of respondents said they were discriminated against during their maternity care, because of their age, weight, income, and race and ethnicity.

The survey did not examine the race of health care providers.

Forty-five percent of respondents said they were hesitant to approach their provider with questions or concerns during maternity care. They cited reasons such as thinking or being told by friends or family that what they were concerned about was normal, not wanting to be seen as difficult or making a big deal of something or feeling embarrassed, or thinking their provider seemed to be in a hurry.

To combat these findings, the CDC recommends health care systems hire diverse workforces and more effectively communicate with patients.

Barfield said during a media briefing that the report was unable to conclude if the findings are directly related to maternal mortality rates. In 2021, about 1,200 women died from maternal-related causes, a 40% spike from the previous year and one of the worst rates of maternal mortality in the country's history.

"This study doesn't really reflect that," Barfield said. "And I think there's more that needs to be done in terms of better understanding these causes. But we do know from this study that women are reluctant to report their concerns. And we do know that as a result of not reporting concern, there may be an increased risk for pregnancy related complications for both mom and baby."

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Ayana Archie