In NYC, the Wrong Zip Code Could Mean Death

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm May 05, 2020

Black mothers-to-be in New York City who live in economically-disadvantaged zip codes are three times as likely to die in childbirth, compared to wealthy White moms, said researchers from Mount Sinai hospital in a published press release on May 4. That means for every 100 deliveries, Black women experienced four cases of a life-threatening condition or life-saving procedure during childbirth, compared 1.7 cases for women in richer areas.

Funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the study looked at birth and hospitalization data in the city from 2012–2014 to examine “how neighborhood racial and economic spatial polarization, an extreme form of residential segregation, influences maternal health,” according to the press release. They found that living in the wrong zip code and far away from financial resources severely impacted maternal deaths for Black and Latinx women, who experience complications sometimes at more than twice the rate of White women. 

"Previous research has documented that a sizable portion of racial and ethnic disparities in severe maternal morbidity rates were explained by between-hospital differences, [such as] Black and Latina mothers receiving care at hospitals with worse outcomes,” wrote Teresa Janevic, one of the study’s authors. “This study digs deeper to study if structural racism, manifested as the geography of racial and economic privilege and disadvantage in New York City, lays the foundation for the hospital-level disparities in care. Women in poor Black neighborhoods were four times more likely to experience a life-threatening event in childbirth than women in wealthy white neighborhoods, and this was partially due to their delivery hospital. These findings suggest that policies addressing racial and economic segregation, health promotion in highly polarized neighborhoods, and quality improvement in hospitals that serve these neighborhoods are needed."

Indeed, Congress last year introduced several pieces of legislation to address these maternal disparities on a national level, but the proposed bills have been stuck in the Senate, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, which has been tracking them. Until legislators pass the pending acts, whether it’s the Quality Care for Moms and Babies Act or the Ending Maternal Mortality Act of 2018, Mount Sinai’s researchers suggest housing policy that specifically targets racial and economic spatial polarization.  

Read the complete release here.