Family members of Elaina Boone of the South Bronx rallied along with advocates outside of the BronxCare Hospital Saturday afternoon. They stood in the chilly rain to protest what they said was their loved one’s needless death weeks after doctors pressured the 36-year-old to have an emergency c-section to deliver her first child, Zion.
They also called on the hospital to release Boone’s medical records to her family, and for the establishment of a birthing center in The Bronx, where the maternal mortality rate is much higher than the state average— and the mortality rate is much higher for Black women than those of other races.
Boone had said on several occasions before going into labor that she didn’t want to have a c-section, Baptiste recalled.
“She kept saying, ‘Sis, I don’t like the way they treating me,’” Baptiste told THE CITY on Thursday. At no point in her pregnancy did Boone have a Black doctor, Baptiste added.
Baptiste, a mother of five, could not hold back her tears at the rally, where she was joined by her mother, Uraina Rouse, and representatives from reproductive rights groups Bronx Rebirth and Planned Parenthood and from the app Irth, which aims “to end racism in maternity care.”
Also there were Bruce McIntyre, whose partner Amber Isaac died in 2020 after giving birth to their son, and Charlene Magee, whose niece Denise Williams died in 2021 while seeking treatment for postpartum depression. Both have become prominent advocates for addressing the issues that have led to higher maternal mortality rates for Black women.
“BronxCare takes all complaints very seriously, including the allegations of improper treatment made by the sister of a BronxCare patient that was treated at our hospital several months ago,” BronxCare spokesperson Errol Schneer told THE CITY. “Our documentation and review regarding the care provided to this patient does not support in any way the allegations being made.”
Schneer cited federal “privacy laws that prohibit us from providing additional information and further commenting about the care of this patient,” adding that BronxCare is “certainly sympathetic to the family during this difficult time.”
Thirty-three percent of pregnancies at BronxCare are carried out with c-sections, consistent with other New York City hospitals, and there have not been any maternal mortalities in 2022 or 2023, Schneer noted.
According to Baptiste, when Boone was in labor at BronxCare on June 1, her doctors urged her to get a c-section — short for cesarean section, a surgical procedure where doctors make incisions to the mother’s abdomen and uterus to deliver a baby — because Zion’s heart rate was dropping.
She reluctantly agreed, and when Boone and Zion left the hospital on June 6, there was still fluid on her lungs, her sister said, nothing that doctors prescribed blood thinners.
And there was still fluid in her lungs when Boone returned on June 21 for a follow-up appointment, Baptiste recalled her sister texting her. Doctors kept Boone there for a few days before clearing her discharge.
Over the course of the next two months, Boone struggled heavily with her breathing and was barely able to do simple tasks like walk to a car, Baptiste said.
In mid-August, Baptiste continued, Boone took her infant son to BronxCare for a routine appointment where doctors noticed how badly she was breathing and advised her to see her doctor. She scheduled an appointment for the following week but died before then, on August 25.
The family did not immediately specify what the cause of death had been. Zion, they said, is being cared for by his father and grandmother.
“My grandson is fine. My daughter is not fine. She’s not here. She’s here with us in spirit,” Rouse said at the rally. “God bless those women that are in this hospital right now that are not getting the proper care, especially delivering a baby.”
‘A Big Push’
According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women nationwide have the highest maternal mortality and morbidity rates, three times higher than those for white women.
Doctors are more likely to ignore the concerns of Black women, according to Associated Press reporting on the health disparities experienced by Black Americans throughout their lives.
“Many of these tragedies could have been prevented if our Black and Latina residents had access to the resources to receive high-quality, patient-centered reproductive care and it is my goal to eliminate these barriers that contribute to poor health outcomes for mothers in our borough,” Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson told THE CITY in a statement, adding that “We will soon be releasing a public report outlining recommendations on how to combat this crisis and address the needs of our Bronx mothers”
She noted that as a councilmember, she allocated $327,000 to The Bronx Health Link, a maternal and infant health advocacy group which oversees the Bronx Doula Project that pairs mothers with a doula for free prenatal services, and said that her office would be releasing a public report soon outlining recommendations to combat the maternal mortality crisis.
Gibson and councilmember Althea Stevens, who holds Gibson’s old seat in a district that includes BronxCare, have both been ardent supporters of establishing a birthing center in the borough.
“Establishing a birthing center has been one of our top priorities,” Stevens, who has allocated a total $150,000 to maternal care services including $50,000 to the group behind the Bronx Doula Project, told THE CITY in a statement.
“As it is a big push, elected officials, and other city agencies must collaborate to ensure we have the proper funding to ensure the birthing center is effective for community members.”
Last year, Stevens and her City Council colleagues passed a slate of bills aimed at improving maternal care and reducing mortality and morbidity rates. The legislation focused mostly on education, the benefits of doulas and midwives and cementing annual reports on morbidity and mortality data.
According to a Department of Health maternal mortality and morbidity report published in 2022, there were 57 pregnancy-associated deaths in New York City in 2019, out of 106,097 deliveries. Twenty six of those women were Black, and 20 others were Latina.
A Citywide Doula Initiative that DOH launched last year has trained 82 people as doulas, including 21 Bronxites residents, according to a department spokesperson.
After her sister’s death, Baptiste, who once worked as a home health aide, is now studying to be certified nursing assistant and, she says, then a nurse.
“That was a wake-up call for me,” said Baptiste.
“I feel like this is what I need to do is to take care of people because I wish somebody would have taken care of my sister.”