By The Dallas Morning News
Here’s a headline worth repeating: Texas does not have the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world.
Eighteen months after the state made national news for its skyrocketing numbers, careful fact-checking has determined that inaccurate reporting on death certificates inflated the number of Texas women who died from pregnancy-related complications in 2012.
With reliable data now in hand, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force can dig in on lasting solutions aimed at the too many deaths that do occur.
The state’s seemingly massive spike in maternal deaths was first reported in late 2016. The original statistics put the Texas 2012 rate at 38.4 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, compared to the national rate of 15.9.
This category includes any pregnancy-related deaths while a woman is pregnant or within 42 days of giving birth, excluding accidental or incidental causes such as car crashes or homicide.
Last year, the shockwaves of concern and criticism over the state’s soaring numbers turned into confusion over the data gathering process itself. The state task force promised to get to the bottom of things, and Gov. Greg Abbott made the issue one of his priorities in the 2017 special legislative session.
Cross-checking multiple sources has now revealed that the number of deaths in 2012 was actually 56, not 147. That’s a 14.6 mortality rate, below the U.S. average.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who authored last year’s bill to extend the maternal mortality task force to 2023, brings the right perspective to the latest numbers. While previous reports were clearly hugely inaccurate, she noted, “I believe we as a state, can and are doing more to improve maternal health outcomes.”
Here are strategic ways to continue that work:
The state should consider extending Texas women’s Medicaid eligibility from 60 days to a year after giving birth. The task force also would be wise to examine the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in state options for help.
The Department of State Health Services must make good on its vow to review maternal death reports from 2013 onward to ensure accuracy.
The health agency should require evidence-based practices that can help hospitals more successfully deal with problems that can arise for pregnant women. This suggestion, made by task force chair Dr. Lisa Hollier to The Houston Chronicle, involves protocols that teach staff to look for warning signs of a problem, respond to it and report outcomes to measure their progress.
Improvements in Texas’ vital statistics collection system need to be a priority. The addition of the maternal mortality category to the death forms coincided with a move to electronic reporting, both of which likely caused confusion for those preparing documents. The health department must ensure that people who certify deaths undergo special training to improve reporting.
Now armed with a more accurate picture of the problem, the maternal mortality task force can put all its energies into improving the health of both new and expecting mothers.