By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – Washington state is battling a climbing rate of pregnancy-related deaths by re-establishing a Maternal Mortality Review Panel, not seen in the state since the 1930s.
State lawmakers passed legislation this year to convene a panel to investigate these deaths, saying they happen at an alarmingly high rate in the U.S. compared to other developed countries.
Rep. Melanie Stambaugh (R-Puyallup), who introduced the House version of the bill, says she used California’s panel as a template.
“When you look at some of the work that California has done, after having a panel and reducing their maternal mortality rate by about two-thirds, I wanted to have that same result here in Washington state,” says Stambaugh.
The state health department says the panel is tentatively scheduled to convene early next year.
States originally created maternal mortality panels about a century ago, before the advent of modern medicine, when deaths in pregnancy were much higher.
Stambaugh notes the high mortality rate could be attributable to women having children later in life, as well as rises in chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes in recent decades.
She adds one of the panel’s goals is to address the higher death rates among women of color. The maternal mortality rate is three times higher for African-American women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“And so, if we have panels like the Maternal Mortality Review Panel that can say, ‘There’s a strong correlation between this culture and this issue; let’s try to fix that,’ those are the solutions we’re looking for, not a one-size-fits-all for all women,” says Stambaugh.
In the U.S., there are more than 18 maternal deaths for every 100,000 babies born. In Canada the rate is just above eight; and in the United Kingdom and Japan, about six.
In Washington state, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact rate of maternal death.
Sean Graham, associate director of policy and political affairs for the Washington State Medical Association, says the investigative board will give the state a baseline of information on these fatalities.
“Exactly what Washington state’s maternal mortality rate is, is something we that we should be able to know,” says Graham. “And beyond that, developing policies that will hopefully reduce that rate.”