It's the punchline to an old joke, but this time it's deadly serious. According to a recent article in Pediatrics
(summary; abstract here
- full text here
), "Black babies with very low birth weights are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to be born at New York City hospitals with high risk-adjusted neonatal death rates." The first and last paragraphs of the article's Discussion section are chilling:
Black VLBW infants are more likely to be born in New York City hospitals with higher risk-adjusted neonatal mortality rates than are white VLBW infants. Our data document that these disparate patterns of utilization explain more than one third of the black/white racial disparity in VLBW neonatal mortality rates in New York City. We used population-based vital statistics data from the nation's largest city to detail these variations and disparities.
The finding that, in New York City, black infants who are born too small systematically receive care in institutions with worse outcomes, compared with those where white infants receive care, demands immediate attention. Our data suggest that improving outcomes at the lowest-performing hospitals may produce the greatest benefit. Because effective treatments for prematurity exist, ensuring that such treatments are used consistently at all hospitals at which VLBW infants receive care is a vital first step toward this improvement goal. Our findings define an imperative to improve care in New York City and to study other urban areas to identify and to ameliorate such trends. The excess deaths suffered by these tiny infants and their contributions to black/white disparities are unacceptable.