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May 09, 2018

Pennsylvania establishes review committee on rising maternal mortality rate

Women's Health Pregnancy
02032018_pregnant_women_Unsplash Photo by Camila Cordeiro/via Unsplash

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Pennsylvania soon will begin a concerted effort to collect information about maternal mortality and disseminate findings that may help health care professionals reduce the number of women who die from pregnancy-related causes.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill on Wednesday that will create a 15-member Maternal Mortality Review Committee within the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Its goal will be to pool the knowledge of various specialists who can analyze and interpret confidential statistics gathered from across the state.

Pennsylvania has seen its maternal mortality rate double since 1994, part of a broader trend elsewhere in the United States since the turn of the century. Most other countries in the world have seen the number of women dying of pregnancy related causes decline during the same period.

“The rising number of maternal deaths is a serious public health concern in Pennsylvania, particularly among minority populations,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “This committee will allow us to bring stakeholders from various areas of maternal health care and other experts together to identify what can be done to reduce the number of maternal deaths. We are committed to providing for the health, safety and well-being of Pennsylvania’s mothers.”

Pennsylvania's new committee will mirror Philadelphia's Maternal Mortality Review team, which is the only public research group of its kind in the state.

Formed by the Philadelphia medical examiner in 2010, the team's subsequent study found that 27.9 women died per 100,000 live births in Philadelphia during a three-year period from 2010-2012. Pregnancy-related deaths are defined as those occurring during pregnancy to a year post-pregnancy.

The national maternal mortality rate during that same time span was 17.8 deaths per 100,000 live births.

A closer look at the data in Philadelphia reveals African-American women are disproportionately impacted by maternal mortality.

“Pennsylvania mothers deserve the best possible health care, and by establishing a Maternal Mortality Review Committee here in the commonwealth, we can make sure the latest information on conditions and treatment options impacting expectant mothers is shared with medical professionals across the state,” said Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, who introduced the legislation and will establish the committee under the direction of Levine.

Pennsylvania, which ranks sixth in the number of live births in the United States, will join about 35 other states that have formed review committees in recent years. Until now, Pennsylvania had been the largest state in the country not to have such a committee. 

“With the alarming rate of maternal deaths in Pennsylvania, establishing this committee will help take immediate action in determining the reasons for this phenomenon and, more importantly, help to develop prevention recommendations,” Wolf said.