In celebration of National Nurses Week, we are sharing this OpEd by Trenton Health Team Nurse Care Manager Cheryl Towns recently published in NJSpotlight, a statewide online newspaper focused on public policy issues, to raise awareness of the systemic racism and special risks many black women face when dealing with medical issues.

“I was 19 years old, a Trenton High School graduate about five months pregnant with my first child. It was a dreary February and I caught a cold. My doctor at the Medicaid clinic told me to go home and take Tylenol and Sudafed, so I did. The next thing I remember was looking up from the floor at a circle of panicked faces…

I asked the emergency-room doctor what happened. Reading from a clipboard, he mentioned that my drug toxicology test had come back negative; then he asked “How long have you been clean?”

I have never used illegal drugs. But I am African-American. I did live in Trenton. This was 1990 — in the middle of a crack epidemic — and this doctor made a dangerous and disrespectful assumption.

My story is not unique but it’s something people don’t often talk about. This week, Black Maternal Health Week has provided an opportunity to raise awareness of both the systemic racism and the special risks many black women face. Now is the time to tell our stories and advocate for policies that will reduce infant and maternal mortality…

Of all pregnancy-related deaths in New Jersey between 2009-2013, more than 46 percent were black women — five times that of their white counterparts. Black babies still die at three times the rate of white newborns and women of all races are more likely to lose their lives during childbirth here than in many other states.

We can — and must — do better. New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy recently launched Nurture NJ, a statewide awareness campaign to reduce infant and maternal mortality and morbidity and ensure equitable maternal and infant care among women and children of all races and ethnicities. The program has a special focus on reducing the higher rate of death among black mothers….”

Read the full OpEd here