Trauma 4.0: 30-Day Landscape of the Post-Roe v. Wade Era

Providers, practitioners, patients, and their supports have long dealt with public scrutiny over the decision to terminate an unintended, unviable, if not potentially life-threatening pregnancy. Yet, amid the post-Roe v. Wade era, it has become tougher to receive and render necessary care; a new dimension of trauma is being unleashed for all involved.

Roe v. Wade was overturned one month ago. The flagrant assault on women’s health and their reproductive rights is now at full throttle. My blog post, Trauma Amid Roe v. Wade Despair, addressed the historical, manifesting, and enduring trauma experienced across society from this new norm. Providers, practitioners, patients, and their supports have long dealt with public scrutiny over the decision to terminate an unintended, unviable, if not potentially life-threatening pregnancy. Yet, this intimate choice was a guaranteed right under the law for almost 50 years, that is until June 24th, 2022. 

I introduced the hashtag, #Therewillbetrauma, which has resonated loudly across the globe. It has joined other entries on social media related to this topic, including:

#abortionishealthcare

#freedomofchoice

#mybodymychoice 

#reclaimRoe

#reproductiverights

#righttochoose 

#Roe43

There has been an outpouring of mobilization this last month to counter the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Struggles to ensure necessary care for women in need have been fierce with ongoing efforts to craft new abortion and reproductive rights legislation. More vulnerable populations, such as women of color, transgender men, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming persons. and those living in poverty were disproportionally impacted prior to Dobbs v. Jackson; their access to appropriate healthcare often limited. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis identifies these populations are more likely to obtain abortions, yet have limited access to health care, and face systemic inequities that make out of state travel for abortions more difficult compared to White counterparts.

Recent events have occurred amid these struggles that reinforce the impact of trauma’s wrath. Each packs a fierce intensity to challenge ethical tenets across health and behavioral health care. Patient autonomy is compromised, as is beneficence, fidelity, justice, and non-maleficence. What happens when “do no harm” is the antithesis of reality for those reconciling their intimate right to choose, and the inability to do so?


Ethics Matter

#Ethicsmatter is another of my popular hashtags. The following news stories demonstrate how little ethics matter to far too many. Each event activates a trauma response that sends my cortisol levels into overdrive. I am a seasoned clinical professional, but also a woman working hard to maintain balance amid a range of emotions, from anger and frustration, to sheer rage:

  1. Within weeks of Roe v. Wade being overturned, a horrific story surfaced. A 10 year old in Ohio, had been sexually assaulted and raped by a 27 year old man, resulting in a pregnancy. At 6 weeks and 3 days of gestation, the child was denied an abortion in her home state due to the Dobbs v. Jackson decision; she was forced to travel across state lines to receive appropriate health care. The physical and psychological trauma from rape is unthinkable. The thought of a rape victim being forced to carry a resulting pregnancy to full-term against her choice is reprehensible; for a 10 year old child, it is unconscionable. This is trauma.
  2. The 10 year old discussed above was referred by her physician to an OB/GYN in Indiana to terminate her pregnancy. The treating physician, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, has subsequently been harassed and threatened by the public, as well as Indiana’s attorney general; her medical license is now under scrutiny. Reports validate Dr. Bernard complied with state and local laws, such as existing HIPAA privacy rights laws for treating a minor, reporting the case to child protective services, and other regulations. Despite acting with beneficence, fidelity, non-maleficence, and egal due diligence, Dr. Bernard faces “reputational harm and emotional distress”. This is trauma.
  3. Marlena Still and her husband, Abie DeSilva live in Texas and were excited about their pregnancy; the couple have a toddler and had tried conceive a second child for some time. During a routine office visit at 9 weeks, doctors informed the couple that there was no heartbeat, and thus, no viable pregnancy; a fetal demise was their new norm. The emotional intensity of their baby dying in utero was unthinkable and traumatic enough. Yet, this tragic situation took an even, more tragic turn. The events that followed were antithetical to “do not harm”:
  4. Marlena was forced to carry a dead fetus for 2 weeks: This is trauma.
  5. Marlena requested a Dilation and Curettage, also known as a D and C and the traditional care following a miscarriage. Her physician refused to do the procedure, citing the new Texas anti-abortion law as the reason. She noted the patient must have a transvaginal ultrasound before further consideration of the procedure. This is trauma.
  6. Marlena endured this invasive diagnostic procedure, plus, then was forced to hear the words no parent experience, and more than once: “your baby is dead”: This is trauma.
  7. After the second ultrasound, Marlena’s OB/GYN still refused to provide clinically indicated care putting her at grave clinical and emotional risk. The patient endured, yet another, ultrasound: This is trauma.
  8. The literature notes profound risks associated with fetal demise and from carrying a dead fetus for an extended period of time: hemorrhage, infection, infertility, organ failure, mortality. The psychological impact of being forced to experience this reality is unacceptable: This is trauma.
  9. Marlena found another physician to do the D and C procedure. This denial of clinically appropriate miscarriage care and treatment is unethical and immoral. This is trauma.
  10. The couple are considering leaving their home state of Texas, their family and support system. They have also opted to not try and conceive another child. Marlena is fearful of being unable to access appropriate care should she have another fetal demise. She is not prepared to put her life in jeopardy and risk leaving her daughter without a mother and husband without a life partner. This is trauma.
  11. The reality for Elizabeth and James Weller of Texas is gut wrenching and almost too much for, even, this author to fathom. At 18 weeks pregnant, her water broke. Given the length of this blog post, those interested can review the heartbreaking events in an article on NPR. They tell a horrific story no person should have to endure: traditional obstetric care amid a medical emergency obstructed due to state law, a patient’s life at risk as she is forced to endure medical and emotional trauma while awaiting “fetal death”, a physician caught in a legal quagmire and unable to practice medicine in a way that prioritizes, “Do not harm”. This is the grim reality which has been created; THIS IS TRAUMA.

The Current State of Trigger Laws

 The emergence of trigger laws banning abortion has been swift. An interactive map of current laws across the nation appears on Governing.com. As of this writing, abortion is illegal in 10 states, though 13 others limit access. Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas will join the state bans in place as this article is published, on July 24th, 2022; Arizona and Georgia will follow in the coming months with a growing number of states curbing women’s reproductive rights. Providers may refuse to participate in an abortion procedures in 45 states. Those practitioners supporting reproductive rights are being threatened at every turn. They are becoming more reluctant to provide necessary care and treatment to women experiencing fetal demise, or where the termination of a pregnancy is clinical indicated; fear of legal reprimand and sanction may supersede patient care. Waiting periods for abortions are advancing, as are efforts restricting all types of abortions: those received across state lines, telehealth procedures, and mail access to medications that induce miscarriages. The reproductive rights scene for women, their families, and all providers who care for them, is becoming scarier by the minute. This is trauma.

Advocacy Matters

As the first 30 days of our post-Roe v. Wade era draws to a close, advocacy continues to be the antidote. The resource listing from my initial blog post on this topic is posted below for ease of access. Engage in action as you can and vote:

It is unclear what the next 30 days will bring, though there is one certainty. Trauma is now its own epidemic, and will only intensify. Amid the battle to fight for reproductive and women’s health rights, there is, and will continue to be, trauma. How much will be determined by ongoing advocacy toward action.

Income Insecurity Impacts Access to, Affordability of, and Outcomes for Men’s Wholistic Health

Men’s access to, use and affordability of physical and behavioral health care is at issue. They have the highest rates of avoidable deaths worldwide and are the most likely to skip care due to costs.

This blog has focused on varied population health and access to care challenges for racial and ethnic minorities, among other vulnerable and marginalized communities. Recent blogs addressed the dismal state of Maternal mortality and mental health, escalating women’s reproductive health crisis, and disappearing birthing centers across rural regions. The impact of systemic racism and other realities, such as trauma, on quality of care has also been of note. Considerable research identifies their influence on exacerbation and emergence of chronic physical and mental illness; every age group, gender, and individual across the cultural landscape is at risk. 

The 2020 International Health Policy Survey from the Commonwealth Fund and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlights a plight worthy of notice: health care habits of American Men faced with financial insecurity. The report compares the access to, use, and affordability of care for males in the U.S. compared to 11 high-income countries. 

Startling Outcomes

The report summary focused on overall demographics by gender versus among racial and ethnic groups. The wholistic health triad of physical, behavioral, and psychosocial health gets primary attention yet again with troubling outcomes:

  • At least, 16 M men in the US lack health insurance:
    • Affordability of health plans remains the primary reason 
  • 45% of men have problems paying medical bills:
    • 67% of these men are frequently stressed about employment and/or financial security

Men in the U.S with income insecurity:

  • Are least likely to have a regular physician
    • They have the highest rates of Emergency Department use, especially for conditions that could have been treated in the Doctor’s office (e.g., asthma, diabetes, hypertension) 
  • Skip necessary care due to costs
  • Incur medical bills at the highest rates
  • Are least likely to access preventative care
  • Have the highest rates of avoidable deaths: 337/100,000
  • Are more likely to have integrated health issues, especially chronic conditions
    • Almost 30% have two or more chronic illnesses
    • Have significantly higher rates of smoking and alcohol use, and increased likelihood of having multiple chronic conditions:
      • 4X greater likelihood of being in fair or poor health
  • Have among the highest rates of mental health care needs: 35% of men

The Bottom Line and Mandate

At this point in time, the data affirms that rates of avoidable deaths, chronic conditions, and mental health needs for U.S. men remain the highest in the world; wholistic health equity quality is at a crossroads. Decreased access to routine preventative primary physical and behavioral health care is compromised by financial insecurity, as readily as traditional behavioral or cultural norms; this includes male resistance to appear vulnerable, weak, or infirmed. The cycle of reactive, emergent, and costly care has an identifiable cause that can be mitigated through a proactive means, encompassing:

  • Expanded access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage. 
  • Targeted person-centric and concordant care, including but not limited to:
    • increased access to racially, culturally, and ethnically-diverse providers and practitioners, as well as those trained in and sensitive to LGBTQIA wholistic health
    • Increased emphasis on integrated care frameworks that leverage patient engagement through comprehensive visits, concordant treatment approaches, and clinical expertise
      • Funding and reimbursement are also enhanced
    • Implicit bias training to debunk stigma and systemic racism, and also builds patient-provider trust
  • Collective efforts of providers, health plans, systems and organizations, and communities to promote preventive care and healthy behaviors, through targeted population-based engagement, psycho-education, and outreach

For my fellow wholistic health equity quality warriors, we’ve got miles to go before we sleep. Feel free to add further strategic recommendations and resources below.  

The Dismal State of Maternal Wholistic Health for Women of Color

Change is long overdue for this massive maternal health chasm of wholistic health disparities, transcending physical, behavioral, and psychosocial health, and particularly for women of color (WOC)

April 11-17th marks annual Black Maternal Health Week. There will most likely be a flurry of well-intended articles, blog posts and announcements focused on legislation, funding of initiatives and programs, and advocacy. But here’s the lowdown: Black mothers have had higher mortality than White mothers for well over 100 years. They are > 3X more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and 2X as likely to suffer from mental health issues than their White counterparts. The impact of historical, intergenerational, medical, racial trauma is invasive and enduring. Change is long overdue for this massive maternal health chasm of wholistic health disparities, transcending physical, behavioral, and psychosocial health, and particularly for women of color (WOC)

The recent Commonwealth Fund report on women’s reproductive health reveals how severe the issue remains:

  • U.S. women have the highest rate of maternal deaths among high-income countries. The current maternal mortality ratio of 17.4 per 100,000 pregnancies, equals roughly 660 maternal deaths. This earns the U.S. last place standing overall among all industrialized countries.
  • A woman’s chance of dying in southern states is 2X greater than those in the north:
    • Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma report death ratios of greater than 30:100,000 live births 
    • California, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania reported death ratios less than half the figures in those states, <15 deaths: 100,000 live births

Data for WOC is beyond alarming: 

  • The maternal death ratio for Black women is 37.1:100,000 pregnancies. The number is 2.5X the ratio for white women (14.7) and three times the ratio for Hispanic women (11.8).
  • Hispanic mothers were 80% as likely to receive late or no prenatal care as compared to non-Hispanic white mothers.
  • Black mother with a college education is at 60% greater risk for a maternal death than a White or Hispanic woman with less than a high school education.
  • Even when WOC verbalize health and mental health concerns to providers, their voice is disregarded:
    • WOC are more likely than White women to express their concerns and preferences regarding births though more frequently ignored
    • Women with Medicaid report inadequate postpartum care and support, where they are:
      • Pressured to have C-sections
      • Not scheduled for postpartum visits
      • Disrespected by providers due to insurance
  • Pregnancy-related mortality rates vary across ethnic groups, yet show a constant disturbing trend:
    • Black (40.8%), American Indian/Alaska Native (29.7%), Asian Pacific Islander (13.5%), and Hispanic (11.5%) compared to Whites (12.7%).
    • Upwards of 60% of these deaths are preventable. A CDC report, reveals the often avoidable causes:
      • Infection (13%)
      • Postpartum bleeding (11%)
      • Cardiovascular conditions such as Cardiomyopathy (11%), 
      • Blood clots (9%), 
      • High blood pressure (8%), 
      • Stroke (7%), and a category combining other cardiac conditions (15%). 

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is scheduled annually for the first week in May, though bears mention. Not treating maternal mental health conditions costs $32,000 per mother-infant pair, totaling $14.2 billion nationally

  • Black women are twice as likely as Whites to suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and less likely to receive treatment: 40% compared to 20-25%  
  • Indigenous women have a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and substance misuse during the perinatal period from 17-47%; Indigenous identity increased the likelihood by 62%
  • Migrant WOC are at greater risk for behavioral health issues during pregnancies (e.g., depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress) from the interaction of psychosocial determinants as forced migration plus generalized insecurity associated with experiences as refugees, asylum seekers, and human trafficking victims

Endless data validates WOC’s maternal health mandates. Recent years have witnessed robust action courtesy of fierce voices and tireless work of many entities in the US and around the globe. Their agendas serve as a clearinghouse of efforts. The list below is a starting point of resources:

The “honorary” annual week is valued, but a wholistic health crisis of this magnitude mandates far more than 7 days of attention. Distinct legislation, dedicated and substantial funding at federal, state and local levels is vital. Yet, these efforts are for naught unless the systemic racism and implicit bias that perpetuate this reality are equally addressed. We must:

  • Identify, call out, and dismantle systemic racism across macro, meso, and micro spaces
  • Develop and implement population-inclusive clinical predictive analytics and algorithms
  • Ensure dedicated quality metrics that report the necessary outcomes to drive clinical programming, treatment, and concordant practices
  • Shift the academic curriculum to better prepare the interprofessional workforce to provide population-specific care without bias
  • Continue to advance the concordant provider-base
  • Expand ethnic, racial, and cultural programming, such as reimbursement of community-based Doulas, especially in medically underserved areas.
  • Expand access to fertility treatments and address racial disparities in outcomes for IVF. Black women are more likely to have infertility compared to other races, yet the access to treatment is minimal

Data has long validated this epidemic’s emergent state, which has continued to escalate. Maternal wholistic health is a public health emergency of the highest priority. This article is just the tip of the iceberg. I invite those in this care space to post additional resources and information.

The Impact of Trauma and Systemic Racism on Wholistic Health Equity

Abundant data on wholistic health disparities mandates intentional, sustainable quality improvement action. Will the next generation of metrics account for this reality?

There is an industry priority to right the societal wrongs associated with historical trauma and systematic racism. These long-standing realities are key drivers of wholistic health disparities: physical, behavioral, and psychosocial health.. A fluid stream of outcomes mandate concordant approaches to racial, ethnic, and other cultural contexts of treatment (e.g., disability, familial choice, gender orientation, regional influences). Yet, despite research to validate data wholistic health outcomes, reflective quality metrics have not been developed.

What Are We Talking About?

            Abundant data assesses the impact of historical, racial, and other types of trauma on health and behavioral health outcomes. Increased healthcare utilization has been identified for survivors of physical and sexual trauma, primarily minority women. Campbell et al. (2002) studied 2,355 females, 21-25 years old, enrolled in a large health maintenance organization (HMO). Patients who experienced intimate partner violence had a far higher prevalence (>50%-70%) of gynecological and central nervous system complaints (e.g., back and pelvic pain, fainting, headaches, seizures), plus other stress-related health issues (e.g., hypertension, insomnia, susceptibility to viral/bacterial infections). Purkey et al. (2020)identified trauma survivors as frequent users of primary, urgent, and emergency care for acute and chronic symptoms. Clarke et al., (2019) discussed the presence of vague somatic complaints by patients who endured traumatic experiences (e.g., ACEs, bulling, pressures to excel in school and career). Costly emergency department visits and ambulatory diagnostic tests are frequently used to identify etiology for chronic and diffuse pain, digestive problems, headaches accompanied chronic illness exacerbation, yet to no avail.    

Another vital dyad for attention involves chronic pain management and stigma experienced by patients from marginalized communities. Wallace et al. (2021) completed a recent study; participants were trauma survivors (e.g., historical, racial, sexual) and members of indigenous, LGBTQIA+, or refugee communities. The results were telling. When physical and emotional pain were expressed to providers, they was minimized or dismissed. If acknowledged by providers, short-term prescriptions were given versus referrals to behavioral health and other specialists.

What Does it Imply?

Data mandates the need for intentional, sustainable quality improvement in this arena. Will the next generation of metrics account for this reality? Racism remains a major factor to drive racial and ethnic inequities in health and mental health, though fails to be addressed in healthcare’s quality proposition. Of the articles reviewed for this blog post, trauma-informed quality analysis of care remained elusive. 2021 saw a fresh generation of industry health equity measures, yet few addressed integrated care, let alone assesses wholistic health equity. Existing metrics continue to silo health or behavioral health. Insufficient focus has been on industry-vetted quality models addressing population-focused, concordant, trauma and equity-focused interventions. 

Where Will Health Equity’s Quality Compass Point?

This author is developing a Quintile Aim for consideration, which adds the pivotal domain of Wholistic Health Equity to the industry’s seminal quality compass. NCQA continues to push this agenda in evolving new metrics. Public comment is open (until 3/11/22) for new HEDIS measures targeting the SDoH. Wyatt et al. (2016) posed a 5-step quality model for organizations to advance health equity delivery to the communities they served, addressed in Figure 1. 

Figure 1: A Framework for Healthcare Organizations to Achieve Health Equity (Wyatt et al., 2016) 

Wyatt R, Laderman M, Botwinick L, Mate K, Whittington J (2016). Achieving Health Equity: A Guide for Health Care Organizations. IHI White Paper: Institute for Healthcare Improvement 

The model was well-intended though had limited substance or strategic action to leverage the intent. This effort was reminiscent of the Quadruple Aim; little data drove the model and obstructed full industry acceptance. By contrast, Dover and Belon’s (2019) Health Equity Measurement Framework (HEMF) is worthy of exploration. Based on the World Health Organization’s Social Determinants of Health model, HEMF vast evaluation areas to measure health equity at macro, meso, and micro levels, as shown in Figure 2. 

Figure 2: HEMF Framework Elements (Dover & Belon, 2019)

Dover, D.C. and Belon, A.P.  (2019. The health equity measurement framework: a comprehensive model to measure social inequities in health. Int J Equity Health 18,36 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-019-0935-0

The HEMF model is worthy of a test drive to gauge its true merit. Use of the wide-scope of theoretical and evidence-based industry elements is an asset. Population diversity and complexity are accounted for through power-related and disparity measures. Health beliefs, behaviors, and values are acknowledged with stress factored in; the traumatic-response across circumstances is embedded. My desire to keep this post brief limits further elaboration on the HEMF model. However, know it poses strong value as a robust quality model to address health, behavioral, and racial health disparities across populations exposed to trauma’s diverse lens.  

Have other integrated care quality models that account for wholistic health equity? Add your considerations and comments below!

%d bloggers like this: