When Latasha Gomiller, a southwest Atlanta resident, contacted Emory University Hospital Midtown for her scheduled induction on Aug. 31, she was stunned by the “rude” response she received from the person who answered the phone. With a dismissive tone, the person curtly stated that all the beds were full in the labor and delivery unit. Gomiller wouldn’t be able to go to the hospital until nearly midnight, two days later.
The experience only got worse once Gomiller was admitted. She knew that her regular obstetrician might not be available to deliver her baby, but she didn’t expect the rough handling that she received from the doctor on shift. Without warning, the doctor stripped her membranes, she said, a painful procedure used to induce contractions.
“All of a sudden, I just feel a lot of pressure,” she recalled. “And then the pressure is followed by pain, and I’m screaming and crying. I’m literally trying to go up the bed, and he’s telling me ‘No, don’t move.’”
Gomiller recalls seeing blood all over his hands. Later, he did the same thing with her amniotic sac, she said, breaking the water without warning. Gomiller had wanted her water to break naturally.
“Then he gets up, he looks at my daughter’s father, and he says, ‘Oh she’s really going to have contractions now,’” Gomiller said.
Even then, the doctor was late to the delivery and told her to resist pushing for 20 minutes until he got there. It was her third baby — her first delivered at Emory Midtown — and her worst birthing experience.
The process seemed more focused on the doctors’ convenience than Gomiller’s own comfort and preferences — an attitude reflected in a TikTok video of Emory Midtown labor and delivery nurses that went viral last week. The four employees were following a TikTok trend, telling viewers their “icks” about patients.
The nurses mocked patients whose relatives request blankets and water for them, and those who refuse epidurals. They criticized mothers who came in for inductions and asked if they could first shower and eat. They labeled men who ask for paternity tests as an “ick,” as well as those who go between rooms to check on two “baby mamas.”
Emory Healthcare has since fired the nurses who were in the video, calling the comments “disrespectful and unprofessional.”
Since the video was published last week, many patients have spoken out on social media about bad birthing experiences at Emory Midtown’s labor and delivery unit, suggesting a problem that extends beyond the four fired nurses. Most of the patients who recounted their traumatizing experiences have been Black women. At least two said their babies died in the care of Emory Midtown’s staff.
Emory Healthcare Director of Media Relations Janet M. Christenbury said the medical system could not comment on the care of individual patients because of federal privacy laws, but she said that Emory is committed to providing expectant patients with care “in comfortable and safe environment and with the utmost respect.”
Since at least September 2020, fewer than 70% of patients responding to a satisfaction survey said they would recommend Emory Hospital Midtown to others, one of the lowest satisfaction rates among Emory’s medical facilities. In its most recent survey results in February 2022, 64% of patients said they would recommend Emory Midtown.
The Midtown facility is one of three labor and delivery hospitals in Emory’s health system. The lowest satisfaction rate among them was at Emory Decatur, formerly Dekalb Medical Center, where 62% of patients said they would recommend the hospital’s services.
Georgia has acquired a reputation for poor prenatal care, and is among the worst in the country for maternal outcomes, particularly for Black women. Between 2018 and 2020, the state experienced 22.7 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. That rate more than doubles for Black women, with 48.6 deaths per 100,000 live births during that two-year period. The overwhelming majority of those deaths were considered preventable by the state.
Courtney Cage, who delivered twins at Emory Midtown in May 2021, said she had a traumatizing delivery experience where one of her baby’s umbilical cord prolapsed, which prompted an emergency cesarean section. On top of the difficult birth — with a medical professional’s hand in her vagina throughout the process because of the prolapsed cord — the staff disregarded of some of her wishes, she said. For instance, she had wanted to keep her placenta for encapsulation, and Cage remembers her doctor also disregarding her doula.
“I definitely fault my doctor for a lot of it,” Cage said, noting that she picked him because of his good track record of delivering twins. “I felt like my doctor was rude to my doula. I felt really bad for her at that moment. … I could barely stand up for myself, let alone stand up for her.”
Thomecia Busby, a full-service doula who has supported births at Emory Midtown, said it can be a toss up whether her clients will receive a supportive staff — nurses included.
“Any of these major hospitals, it’s always a 50-50 chance if we’re going to have their provider on shift, have nurses on shift who actually care and don’t have an attitude, and have an entire birth team that’s willing to not only inform my client, but listen to my client when it comes to decisions,” Busby said.
Given Georgia’s status as one of the most dangerous places in the country for Black women to give birth, the fact that most of the nurses in the TikTok video were Black was particularly disappointing.
“It was very sad that these were Black nurses. … If I was a Black nurse, I would always keep in mind that Georgia is literally No. 1 for maternal mortality rates,” Busby said. “Why am I sitting on TikTok venting about my “icks” about patients when I am a certified registered nurse … and I’m Black and I work in labor and delivery?”