By Mary Ellen Cunningham, AzPHA Board President
The United States ranks lower than Poland, Belarus and UAE among other nations in maternal mortality according to the CIA’s World Factbook. A report from ACOG on maternal mortality tells us that the US Maternal Mortality rate is the only one raising among industrialized nations. But deaths are the tip of the iceberg; it is estimated that 50-100 women experience severe maternal morbidity for every death. The CDC defines severe maternal morbidity as the unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman's health. So, what is killing or injuring Arizona mothers? A report published by ADHS based on available data shows us the leading causes of death or severe injury are cardiac and hypertensive disorders, hemorrhage and suicide/homicide and accidents.
In the past few years, there have been efforts nationally and within Arizona to change that trajectory. Arizona has had a Maternal Mortality Review process, which was actually just a few lines added to the statute for Child Fatality Review, since 2011 which created a subcommittee to look into Arizona maternal deaths. While many volunteers reviewed the cases monthly, there were no reporting requirements and never any funding attached. Additionally, the state agencies are often handicapped by the inability to hire new folks.
But all that is changing…very much for the better. For over a year now, the Bureau of Women’s and Children’s Health, in partnership with the March of Dimes and the Arizona Perinatal Trust has been leading Arizona’s efforts to reduce maternal fatalities and severe morbidities through a collaborative process. A Severe Maternal Morbidity/Maternal Mortality Prevention Taskforce was formed on October 30, 2018 and engaged over 36 stakeholders representing the state agencies, tribes, maternal health experts, and healthcare systems.
The Task Force met a few times during the past year, reviewed data and participated in facilitated discussions. ADHS developed a Maternal Mortality Action Plan based on the suggested strategies:
Sustained partnership with the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM)
Engage providers and patients
Expand the scope of data analysis with respect to racial disparities
Continuous communication with stakeholders
The Task Force is ongoing. Information about it can be found here.
The March of Dimes, at the same time, led the effort to expand on the work of the existing Maternal Mortality Review process. As a result of the hard work of many, and led by Senator Kate Brophy McGee, SB1040 was passed and signed by the governor at the end of the 2019 Legislative session. SB1040 requires ADHS to gather together an advisory committee to look at the maternal mortality and morbidity review process and to report on that review to the chairs of the House and Senate Health committees by December 31, 2019 and to have a report to the governor on the incidence and cause of maternal fatalities and morbidity by December 31, 2020.
In the meanwhile, there was no grass growing under ADHS. They had applied for and were awarded a competitive grant from the CDC to support the maternal mortality efforts by standardizing the current maternal mortality review process; supporting the MMRC in developing actionable recommendations; disseminating the findings of the MMRC to different audiences and leading and supporting the adoption of maternity safety bundles at birthing facilities. This $450,000 a year for five years will also support needed staff.
They also applied to become a part of the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM), a national effort of reducing maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity and have started working with AIM and at the same time are awaiting to hear about an additional grant application to HRSA about maternal health.
The members of the legislatively required Advisory Committee on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity were selected from an open application process and has met once and will meet again this Monday, September 16 to continue its work. There is a very short window to accomplish much. I was selected to represent ‘a public health organization.’ It is an Open Meeting, so anyone is welcome to attend. Here is a link to the details.
Finally, maternal mortality has become a focus of the governor’s Goal Council. ADHS is finishing up a plan that incorporates the work and the recommendations of the multipartnered Task Force. This Plan should be out soon. It will not only address the acute side of maternal mortality like hemorrhage or hypertensive crisis but will address many of the social determinants of health like access to care. As public health folk know, its what happens upstream that changes societies.
On a personal note, I have never felt so hopeful for mothers and babies in this state. ADHS, the March of Dimes, the Arizona Perinatal Trust and countless medical personnel and health care systems both public and private have all worked tirelessly for generations to improve the outcomes for mothers and babies, but this coordinated effort is beyond anything any one group could accomplish. There is a golden opportunity right now with a mix of state and national efforts, political will and ample funding. The battle is ours to win.