Nina Thomas, 24, is a single mom who lived in Kankakee, Illinois, before COVID-19 upended her life.
Her routine, for nearly four years, included working her night shift job at a Joliet warehouse, and picking up and dropping off her toddler son, Jayden, at the babysitter’s during the week.
“I love being a mom. It’s the greatest thing ever,” she said. “Then when COVID-19 hit, it was like everything got turned upside down—my partner left, the job left, the car almost left. It was hard.”
Thomas was also going through her second pregnancy during it all, and at 22 weeks, she was having some serious issues with housing stability. A former resident of Dolton, she remembered the Family Christian Health Center (FCHC) on the campus of UChicago Medicine-Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey.
“When I came to the office and talked to my doctor, I just started crying,” Thomas said. “The doctor asked what was wrong, and I was like, ‘I’m so stressed out.’ I got this baby with me, and he’s 3, and I don’t want to let him down.” She said she asked for help because she was “scared” and had no support from family members.
“If there was a facility more focused on single moms … going through this journey, a place where people make you feel safe that it is OK to ask for help, I’d go,” Thomas said she thought at the time.
On Feb. 1, such a place will open on the Ingalls hospital campus in Harvey—the Maternal Child Health and Wellness facility (15620 S. Wood St.). And as its name indicates, the space will center on maternal health in an attempt to reduce the alarming rate of maternal mortality in Black women in Illinois.
Health records show that of the 46 million hospitalizations of pregnant or postpartum women between 2007 and 2017, Black women were 45% more likely to die in the hospital, women of color reported more pain postpartum, and yet they receive less opioid medication in the hospital and at discharge, and Black women in Illinois were six times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related condition than white women.
In December, the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced a plan to improve maternal health that includes getting blood pressure under control for 80% of reproductive-age women. Dr. Lisa Green, CEO and co-founder of the Maternal Child Health and Wellness site, hopes the new site will turn the tide. She has worked to improve health care services for Black moms throughout her career and conducted a symposium on the topic in 2020.
“What we’re trying to do is to make sure that there is a complete ecosystem that is sustainable enough that allows Black mothers to make sure that they get the care that they need,” Green said. “I believe strong heartedly that we can be a model that makes a difference for our communities, because if we don’t, then who will?”
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