Column: Our state’s maternal death rate is alarming

South Carolina’s maternal-mortality rate is the eighth highest in the nation, with 26.5 deaths for 100,000 live births compared to 20.7 nationwide.

The Centers For Disease Control also found that between 2011 and 2015, the maternal-mortality rate for black women in our state was significantly higher, with a gap of more than 40 deaths per 100,000 live births.

I am helping to lead a bipartisan effort in the Senate calling for an increased focus on reducing maternal mortality in the United States and improving health outcomes for all mothers and children.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, 14 Republican and Democratic senators requested that they prioritize developing strategies to reduce maternal mortality, including for pregnant women and mothers enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Nationally, from 2000 to 2014, the rate of maternal mortality, defined as the death of a woman while pregnant or during the one-year period following the end of pregnancy, increased by 26 percent. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks 30 of 31 in maternal-mortality rates among developed nations.

Research shows that roughly 60 percent of maternal deaths in the United States could be prevented with improved patient care and education, standardized protocols and timely intervention.

In our letter, we highlighted the racial and ethnic disparities in maternal and infant health in the United States. For instance, African-American women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than other women. American Indian and Alaskan Native women also fare worse than white women, with approximately twice as many pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births.

Research indicates that numerous factors may contribute to these glaring health disparities, including barriers to accessing necessary prenatal and postnatal care, a growing prevalence of chronic conditions, maternal stress, inadequate training for health-care providers, racial bias, and social determinants of health.

We asked these federal agencies to review existing data and provide us with recommendations about what can be done at the federal, state, and local levels to reduce mortality and improve health outcomes for all mothers and their children, regardless of their racial and ethnic background, income level or educational attainment.

We also called attention to effective policies that some hospitals have developed to better prepare for pregnancy-related complications that could serve as a model for hospitals nationwide.
Some states have taken significant steps to reduce maternal mortality, but not all hospitals and birthing centers have implemented common protocols and comprehensive quality measures to help ensure safe labor and delivery, prenatal and postnatal care.

To help solve this serious problem, we need to assess integrating these protocols into health-care delivery systems and hospitals nationwide, and putting in systems of accountability and support for patients and clinicians.