1st African American woman appointed OB-GYN in-chief at NYP-Weill Cornell

As we celebrate Women's History Month, Eyewitness News wants to introduce you to the first African American woman appointed OB-GYN in chief at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Laura Riley has many goals she wants to accomplish while in this position.

Video Transcript

- It's Women's History Month. And today, we're celebrating the first African-American woman appointed OB-GYN in-chief at the New York Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. She has many goals set for her role. But near at the top of the list-- curbing the high rate of maternal mortality in New York. Eyewitness News Anchor Shirleen Allicot introduces us to Dr. Laura Riley.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: As a little girl growing up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Laura Riley knew exactly what she wanted to be. She wanted to become a doctor like her idol Joe Gannon from the 1970s television show, "Medical Center."

LAURA RILEY: That was my idea of medicine, and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to like, save the world like this guy did.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: She'd graduate Harvard despite being told she'd never make it. And she'd get through tough years at medical school all with the support of her family and the close knit friendships she developed.

LAURA RILEY: There certainly weren't very many black women. But the few of us that there were, we stuck together like glue.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Dr. Riley set out to prove herself. Her impressive experience specializing in high-risk obstetrics and infectious diseases for decades got the attention of NYP-Weill Cornell.

LAURA RILEY: It was an opportunity to lead an academic program that was a little bit sleepy but on the verge of something great.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: As OB-GYN in-chief, Dr. Riley led the opening of the state-of-the-art Alexandra Cohen Hospital for women and newborns this past August. The busy hospital can accommodate 7,000 births a year. Dr. Riley says she knew when she took the job, she'd want to address maternal mortality among women of color here in New York.

LAURA RILEY: When I came here two years ago-- almost three years ago now, you know, black women were dying 12-- we're 12 times more likely to die in New York City than white women having a baby.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: According to the US Department of Health, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among other developed countries. And New York is among the worst in the nation. In fact, the state experienced a 60% increase in maternal mortality over the past decade. Dr. Riley says encouraging patients to speak up and doing everything in their power to make sure they listen is a top priority.

LAURA RILEY: We just need to make sure that we've got that team that really respects all the different cultures of the people that we take care of with diverse faculty and diverse residents and facilitating conversation-- I think is huge.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Dr. Riley admits this is slow work. It is not going to be an overnight success. But she is happy with the progress they've made so far. And she is looking forward to a day when women, all women, can truly feel safe and be heard. I'm Sh--