Black Women's Wellness Center aims to combat racial health disparities

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)-- The Foundation for Black Women's Wellness made history in Dane County opening the first health center for women of color to combat racial health disparities.

The 2019-2020 Dane County Community Health Needs assessment said black babies are three times more likely to die before age 1 than white babies. Also, expectant mothers of color experience greater barriers to access prenatal care.

This center is aiming to bridge those gaps

Vibrant colors creating warmth and a sense of belonging is the way Lisa Peyton-Caire wanted every woman greeted as they start their new journey.

"Walking in this space every day and seeing where we've come in the present and reflecting on the journey that it has taken to getting to this place is the best feeling I could have," she said.

The Black Women’s Wellness center offers an array of programs ranging from nutrition workshops to fitness classes. Peyton-Caire founded the center hoping to use it as a tool to combat racial health disparities in Dane County.

"We are working to turn the tide to improve black women's health in a state and county where our outcomes have been unacceptable for a very long time," she said.

A 2014 Health Affairs study shows from 1990 to 2009, Wisconsin was the only state in the U.S. where life expectancy between black and white populations grew significantly.

The life expectancy gap is a reality that Peyton-Caire has seen with her own mother.

"Her untimely death in May 2006 at the age of 64 from congestive heart failure. That was a life changing experience that illuminated the crisis in black women's health,” she said.

Peyton-Caire said it’s a crisis that starts in the doctor's office.

"Training physicians, nurses and practitioners to really listen to black women and take them seriously as patients and to be culturally responsive to their lives so they can better deliver informed quality care is so vital," she said.

Jackie Donald lives in Madison and comes to the wellness center regularly.

Donald said she got hurt on the job, and a torn muscle was the diagnosis. She said the doctor wanted to give her a steroid injection after she already voiced her concerns about the side effects.

“I told him before I'm not going to have a good reaction to that,” she said. “[He said] I give this to all people and it seems to work for everybody. Well I said, 'I’m not everybody.'"

She said every time she leaves the doctor she feels unheard and misunderstood.

"It makes me feel like I'm nothing," Donald said.

"The way we are perceived as black women when we come into a healthcare interaction is so often different because of social difference and the way physicians are prepared," Peyton-Caire said.

An American Journal of Public Health study found overall racial/ethnic minorities receive poorer quality health care than whites in the United States. It said bias is one of the reasons behind these disparities.

"Our own life experiences really do inform our work and it's no different when we're talking about nurses or doctors," Peyton-Caire said.

Peyton-Caire said she's made it her mission to encourage and empower black women to live their happiest and best life.

"We want to reach that place where we can write a new story and say “10 years out we solved that challenge,” she said.

"If it wasn't for her and the people involved in the foundation. I don't know where I would be," Donald said.

For more information, visit the Black Women’s Wellness Center’s website.