Editor's note: All of the file video shown above was shot before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- CDC data shows Black babies are more than twice as likely to die as white babies. Now, a new study found the chance of survival nearly triples if a Black baby is cared for by a Black doctor.
Numbers from Nurture KC show every week there are a little more than 455 babies born in the Kansas City metro area. Out of those babies, two, sometimes three, of those babies will die before they turn a year old. Eighty-seven of the bunch will be born early increasing their risk of health complications.
Dr. Traci Johnson is a board certified OBGYN at Truman Medical Center and a mother of three. Her youngest daughter was born six weeks early and spent time in the NICU.
“Here in Kansas City and Missouri in general we have high infant mortality rates, especially per capita,” Johnson said.
Infant mortality rates have declined in recent years, but the racial disparities still exist. The latest data from Nurture KC for the Kansas City metro area shows for every 1,000 black babies born, 9.8 will die before their first birthday. That’s compared to 4.1 white babies who will die in the same time span.
A new study was published by the National Academy of Sciences data from close to 2 million hospital births in Florida over two decades. The study found that if Black babies were cared for by Black doctors they are twice as likely to survive than if cared for by a white doctor.
Johnson says she believes cultural and racial similarities could help doctors recognize subtle cues.
“I know in the African American community, I pick up those things a little more often and patients say that in their feedback, that might be something that if you have a different ethnic background than the patient you might miss and that translate over to care for the infant,” Johnson said.
There are also wide gaps in infant mortality rates depending on your zip code. Data from the Health Department shows in 64128 for every 1,000 babies born, 17 will die. In 64155 for every 1,000 babies born, three will die.
So, what steps should be taken to ensure more equitable outcomes for all babies?
Tracy Russell, executive director of Nurture KC, says expanding Medicaid is a start to allow better access to healthcare regardless of income.
“In states that have expanded Medicaid they have a 50% greater reduction in infant mortality than in states that fail to act,” Russell said.
Russell says bias in medical professionals also plays a role in disparities.
“When you look at racism in health as insidious as it is, I think what we often lose track of is that it’s not just blatant displays but it’s that unconscious bias that’s at play too,” Russell said.
Johnson is one of less than 10 Black OBGYNs in our area, she hopes this new study reveals the needs for more culture and diversity training in medicine.
“We know for a fact that we’re not doing well when to comes to cultural humility in this country, and we use cultural humility as opposed to cultural competence because we know you’ll never be completely competent in someone else’s culture,” Johnson said. “This is something we need to do better at and when we’re not having these conversations we’re getting behind.“
Johnson believes researches should continue to repeat similar studies to find out whether there is truly a connection between infant mortality rates and the race of the doctor who cares for a baby.