According to the most recent statistics, Alabama’s 2018 maternal death rate of 36.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births means women in this state die from pregnancy and childbirth complications at more than double the rate of women nationally (17.4 deaths). The numbers also mask a glaring racial disparity: black women die at a rate of (37.1) more than double the rate of white women (14.7) and Hispanic women (11.8).
Unfortunately, the issue of maternal mortality is not cut and dry, and determining what is (and isn’t) a maternal death can be complicated. In fact, prior to 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Vital Statistics System had not published data on maternal deaths since 2007.
So, what can we do to obtain better statistics and reverse this unacceptable trend?
To the Medical Association and the Alabama Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the answer was simple: fund the Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC).
The MMRC is a collaboration of agencies and health professionals working to better understand factors causing maternal deaths and identify the strengths and weaknesses of current programs and services. At its core, the purpose of an MMRC is to conduct reviews of each maternal death, create actionable prevention strategies, and implement positive changes in health systems.
Take, for instance, a 2018 report from MMRC’s in 9 states which found more than half of maternal deaths were ultimately preventable, and Tennessee found that number to be as high as 85 percent.
Or consider how California’s MMRC, which was established in 2006, created a set of best practices which resulted in a 55 percent reduction in maternal deaths.
Unfortunately, Alabama is behind the curve, having only recently launched a zero-budget, all-volunteer committee in early 2019 under the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). Knowing the impact a funded MMRC can have, the Medical Association led a coalition of partners to obtain just that during the past legislative session.
Initially comprised of only the Medical Association, ACOG, and ADPH, our coalition grew to attract an array of other partners in short order. From physician groups like AAP to the nonprofit, March of Dimes, and even Johnson & Johnson, the call for legislators to fund the MMRC grew rapidly.
Ultimately, Governor Ivey included a $478,000 request specifically for the MMRC in her budget and, even amidst budgetary uncertainty due to COVID-19, the legislature chose to keep the funding in the final budget.
With the MMRC funded, now begins the work to #savealmoms.