Illuminate: Shining a Light on Women’s Health

Mar 20, 2024

Dear Friend,

Uché Blackstock, MD, made several profound observations during her visit to Fairfield County last month.

But one hit me especially hard.

Dr. Blackstock — despite having undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, and a highly successful career as a physician and author — noted that she is still five times more likely to die during pregnancy than her white peers simply because of her race.

This statement served as a stark reminder to me—a fellow mother, Harvard graduate, and accomplished professional—that regardless of our individual achievements, our racial and gender identities are inherently tied to systemic disadvantages that are difficult to escape.

Dr. Blackstock’s appearance — part of our new “In Community” speaker series — also drove home the fact that while the deck is especially stacked against Black women, all women face obstacles in a health system that is wrought with gender inequities.

An Uphill Climb
Women still lag our male counterparts when it comes to funding for research, resources, and treatments for addressing a wide range of health and wellness issues.

This is particularly evident in areas such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and mental health, where symptoms, risk factors, and treatment responses often differ between genders.

And while women account for nearly half of physicians in training, many practicing physicians admit they are not properly equipped to address women’s health needs.

A 2022 report from the American Heart Association (AHA) found only about one in five physicians and two in five cardiologists feel prepared to adequately assess heart disease specific to women. The AHA also reported that women who visited emergency departments with chest pain waited 29 percent longer than men to be evaluated for possible heart attacks.

Meanwhile, even for gender-specific specialties such as obstetrics and gynecology, there are stark inequities in the quality-of-care that women receive based on race. To that end, the Foundation last fall launched the Black Maternal Health Initiative, which is working to address the significant disparities in care and health outcomes for Black mothers and their babies.

Leveling the Terrain
While we are proud to have launched this effort, our work is only amplifying the inspiring example set by women like Cynthia Hayes, a doula from Bridgeport who has been a powerful advocate for the health of mothers and babies in our state, and Charlotte Suhler, who has been a force for change for women and girls in Fairfield County for decades.

Suhler, who is being honored by the Community Foundation next month as the recipient of the Anne S. Leonhardt Award, was a driving force behind the creation of our Fund for Women & Girls and continues to advocate for legislation that aims to improve healthcare, affordable housing, and educational opportunities for women.

The efforts of women like Cynthia and Charlotte give us hope that change is not only possible but achievable. However, it will demand greater solidarity from us to stand alongside these courageous community members and truth-tellers, such as Dr. Blackstock, to change systems that are still stacked against women.

We invite you to join us in advancing women’s health initiatives in our county.  You can learn more about health inequities in our community — and how to become a voice for change — by getting involved with the Fairfield County Equity Lab. Additionally, you can catalyze change by supporting our Black Maternal Health Initiative.

And you can join us on Thursday, April 11, for our annual celebration for the Fund for Women & Girls, which supports innovations like the emme coalition, a pioneering program that works at the intersection of physical wellness, behavioral health, and social services to connect women and girls with lifelong tools for wellbeing.

During the celebration, you’ll have the chance to hear from Jane Pauley, host of CBS Sunday Morning and founder of the Jane Pauley Community Health Center, which provides essential medical, dental, and behavioral health care to underserved communities.

The health of our community hinges on the well-being of the women who infuse it with immeasurable vibrancy, support, and strength. Investing our collective time, talent, and resources in their wellness promises exponential returns and is unquestionably worthwhile.

In Community,

Mendi Blue Paca