By CBSNewYork Team

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey ranks 47th in the nation for maternal mortality, and now, the state’s first lady is teaming up with others to change that.

Shalon Irving was an epidemiologist with the CDC, had a dual subject PhD and died after giving birth.

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“Shalon went to the doctor three times for the same symptoms. She was just dismissed with, ‘You just had a baby. Give it time. It’ll get better,'” Wanda Irving, Shalon Irving’s mother said.

She says she lost her daughter because she wasn’t heard.

“I never for a moment thought that she was at risk of dying because she was a Black woman,” Irving’s mother said.

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Experts say losses like this happen because of bias by health professionals.

“Many doctors assume that the pain tolerance of Black women are higher, so they don’t trust them when they say they’re in pain,” said Dr. Antonia Francis Kim, with Hackensack Meridian Health.

Black women die at a four times higher rate than white women nationwide. In New Jersey, it’s seven times higher. A Black baby is three times more likely than a white baby to die before his or her first birthday.

First Lady Tammy Murphy is on a mission to change this through a new state plan called Nurture NJ.

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“Its goal is to reduce our maternal mortality rate by 50% over five years,” Murphy said.

On Monday, Murphy will announce the state’s full plan to eliminate racial disparities in health care.

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Vice President Kamala Harris wrote a bill requiring medical schools teach soon-to-be professionals about their bias.

“It’s not a function of this woman’s educational level. It’s not a function of this woman’s socioeconomic level,” Harris said. “It is literally because of her race and because of the implicit bias that is in the medical health professions that result in that woman not being taken seriously.”

Hackensack Meridian Health is educating its workforce and uses the ALLY model —

  • A – avoid assumptions
  • L – learn about the whole patient by asking open-ended questions
  • L – listen more than you talk
  • Y – yield to the patient by involving them in their care

Health professionals there say if they can take on COVID, they can combat this.

CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report.

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