By The Houston Chronicle
What makes Texas famous? Ranches? Oil? Breakfast tacos?
These days, the question worth asking is what makes Texas infamous. The Lone Star State has started making headlines across the globe for maternal mortality.
It’s true that far too many Texas mothers die during pregnancy or within a year following giving birth and that African-American Texans are at greatest risk. However, a new study has found that the data underlying these disturbing headlines is imprecise, with the study’s co-author noting that she was surprised at “just how bad the data was.”
“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,” Albert Einstein once said. Although maternal mortality is a complicated problem that will require more than a one-minute solution, Gov. Greg Abbott and our local lawmakers need to focus on establishing reliable data if they intend to solve the problem. Our public health system can’t effectively work to halt this deadly pandemic if it can’t track what’s going on.
While bills passed last session supported further research on maternal mortality, the Legislature and our local officials need to go further. The Reducing Maternal Mortality Steering Committee convened by the Houston Endowment has identified several worthwhile solutions.
At the state level, the Department of Health and Human Services should create electronic data linkages between death and birth certificates to better identify pregnancy-associated deaths.
Harris County particularly needs extra scrutiny. Existing information shows that the rate of severe maternal morbidity — health complications that can lead to death — in Harris County is 20 percent higher than the already unacceptably high Texas rate. County Judge Ed Emmett and Mayor Sylvester Turner should cooperate to establish a multi-disciplinary, independent maternal health council responsible for consistently reviewing data on the health of women in our area to guide reforms.
In addition, a registry for data on the quality and safety of hospital care for new mothers should be developed so that doctors and scientists can better understand the key contributors to maternal mortality.
The endowment’s steering committee found that a part of the problem is that women’s health is considered only after the health of babies. In this great state, there’s no reason why we can’t try to make headlines for treating mother and child alike with the utmost care.