Comstock's magazine 0319 - March 2019 - Page 81

babies don’t tolerate this and can suffer brain damage. Problem en — a maternal health crisis that also impacts the lives of is, Ray says, physicians rely on a monitor that has the “accuracy black babies. of a coin toss” in determining whether a baby is tolerating labor. Dr. Flojaune Cofer is a women’s health epidemiologist and That can lead to false alarms or unreported problems. senior director of policy for Public Health Advocates, a Davis- “So now the family could have a baby with a brain injury that based nonprofit. She says that historical trauma, unstable liv- was never determined,” Ray says. “You can imagine the conse- ing conditions and racial bias take a psychological toll on black quences of that: emotional turmoil, cost of litigation.” women, which can affect mothers physically and impact the He is developing a sensor that will integrate with existing health of babies in utero. monitors to increase accuracy of fetal distress. In September In 2013, Sacramento County decided to get serious about an 2018, Ray’s technology received the coveted designation as a issue plaguing certain communities within its borders, launch- “Breakthrough Device” by the FDA, putting the startup on a fast ing a massive multimillion dollar community effort to address track to the federal review process. Raydiant Oximetry raised the mortality of black children, who from 1990 to 2009, died at $1.25 million from angel groups, about half a million in grants, twice the rate of other racial groups. The County established and Ray expects to hit the target of $4.5 million in a Series A the Steering Committee on Reduction of African American round by the end of April. Child Deaths to address systemic inequality and reduce black Even with that interest, Ray says he still runs into resis- infant deaths by 10-20 percent by 2020. According to Sacramen- tance. In January, he attended the annual J.P. Morgan Health- to County’s most recent data, the death rate for black infants care Conference in San Francisco dropped 45 percent between 2013 and 2016. and pitched his idea to a VC at The The Child Death Review team identi- Westin St. Francis hotel. fied key causes related specifically to in- “We were talking privately, and fants: perinatal conditions and sleep-related I thought there was synergy,” Ray deaths. The Steering Committee, through its recalls. “Then he said, ‘Women’s Black Child Legacy Campaign, set up com- health care issues don’t excite me.’” munity incubators in the seven most impact- Most of the funding for Raydiant ed neighborhoods to provide resources and Oximetry has come from physicians, wraparound services, such as counseling, not venture capitalists, he says. But housing, health insurance and safe-sleeping one of his key backers is Portfolia, a practices. These incubators also work with Menlo Park-based venture investing “cultural brokers,” who are trusted members - Dr. Neil Ray, platform run by women. Its Fem- of the community, to ensure they’re provid- founder, Raydiant Oximetry Tech Fund is reportedly the first ing culturally relevant services. fund in the nation to invest solely in WellSpace Health, a community-fo- women’s health companies. cused health care provider, has linked with “Men don’t have the body parts women have, and they also the Black Child Legacy Campaign to train health workers to don’t want to talk about those body parts in their weekly meet- meet women in their communities, create peer groups, and ings,” says Nola Masterson, lead investor in Portfolia’s FemTech provide counseling and education seminars, all part of an ef- Fund, who has over 30 years of venture capital experience. “If fort to customize the perinatal experience for low-income, you have a solution for vaginal dryness, menopause, birthing, uninsured women. newborn babies, men won’t think it’s an investable strategy be- “We’re trying to overcome this ethnic and cultural gap, cause they don’t see it as a problem. But half the world is women, which has come with a lot of biases and misunderstandings and and they need investments, solutions and technology.” characterizations that aren’t necessarily accurate,” says Jona- than Porteus, CEO of WellSpace Health and a licensed clinical CULTURALLY COMPETENT CARE psychologist. “The women of color we serve have been under- Investments in women’s health are desperately needed now, valued, treated less than ... and here they are making a life.” at a time when more mothers are dying from pregnancy-relat- Providing health care spaces in which women of color can ed issues today than they were 25 years ago. Each year, about see themselves is fundamental to fostering better outcomes for 700–900 maternal deaths occur in the U.S., which is one of them and their children, experts say. only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mor- “When black women show up to hospitals, their pain is not tality is worse than it was in 1990. For black women, the situ- recognized as being as significant, symptoms not perceived ation is even more dire. The Centers for Disease Control and to be as severe, opportunities to intervene are missed,” Cofer Prevention notes that black women are three to four times as says. Something as simple as a supplement to address vitamin likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white wom- D deficiencies, more common in women of color and a prima- “I thought there was synergy. Then he said, ‘Women’s health care issues don’t excite me.’” March 2019 | 83