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Report shows uptick in maternal mortality for PA women of color

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Monday, November 6, 2023   

Pennsylvania ranks 23rd among states for the overall health of women and children in a new America's Health Rankings report by the United Health Foundation.

The Keystone State comes in 24th for its maternal mortality rate, the rate of deaths after pregnancy. The figure improved from last year, but nationwide, maternal mortality is up 29% since 2019.

Dr. Sharee Livingston, OB/GYN and department chair at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Lancaster, said there is always room for improvement in Black maternal health, as Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die after giving birth.

"Those social determinants of health that have a negative impact on their pre-pregnancy health, their pregnancy health, and most importantly, their postpartum," Livingston explained. "Four out of five postpartum deaths are preventable. Most women who die post-childbirth are dying 43 days and greater beyond delivery."

Livingston pointed out COVID-19 exposed major health disparities in the U.S., and added the report emphasized maternal mortality rates have gotten worse for people of color.

Livingston cofounded the Health Equity Now committee at the university, noting the goal is to decrease maternal morbidity and mortality in racially and ethnically diverse populations in Pennsylvania.

"It's forcing us to do three things," Livingston outlined. "Pay attention to the patients: How are they feeling about their care? How are they presenting to pregnancy? What's happening when they're in pregnancy? So, we're looking at data. Policies ... nothing happens without legislation, right? We have to change policy."

Livingston added the 70-member committee includes doulas, and data show diversifying the prenatal workforce and including doulas improves maternal health outcomes, especially for people of color.

Dr. Lisa Saul, national medical director of maternal child health for UnitedHealthcare, said a healthy pregnancy boils down to health care access.

"Access to obstetric care, access to hospitals, is something that is an issue in our country," Saul contended. "We know about maternity care 'deserts,' where sometimes women might have to travel for two hours to not only see their physician or their OB provider, but also to give birth."

Saul stressed the importance of "calling out" the disparities in pregnancy outcomes for people of color. The report also includes some good news, including a decrease in the percentage of teen births, and fewer Pennsylvania teens using electronic vaping products.

Disclosure: UnitedHealthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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