The number of deaths resulting from any cause related to pregnancy or its management – not including incidental or accidental causes – is referred to as the maternal mortality rate. It is measured in maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Currently, the U.S. ranks at the bottom of the list of all developed countries in maternal mortality.
These rates are of particular concern for women of color. In 2018, Georgia’s overall maternal mortality rate was 20% higher than the national average – 46.2 deaths for every 100,000 births. For women of color, however, the rates are even higher – approximately 66.6 deaths for every 100,000 births (compared to 47.2/100,000 nationally). By comparison, the maternal mortality rate for Hispanic women in Georgia is 18.1 deaths for every 100,000 births (compared to 12.2/100,000 nationally).
In short, black mothers are more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than white mothers. While the likelihood of pregnancy complications is increased by the presence of pre-existing conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease, and preeclampsia), access to healthcare is also a serious concern. Dr. Michael Lindsay, chief of OB/GYN at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine, told CNN that “[t]he racial divide in maternal deaths has been persistent for decades, ‘so the rate is not something new. It’s something we’ve known for a number of years.’”
What Georgia can learn from California
California has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the country – about 17.6 deaths per every 100,000 live births – but it still struggles with high mortality rates for women of color. To combat the issue, legislators wrote and passed Senate Bill 464 – the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act – which was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2019. This new law will “make legislative findings relating to implicit bias and racial disparities in maternal mortality rates” and require hospitals and birth centers “to implement an evidence-based implicit bias program, as specified, for all health care providers involved in perinatal care of patients within those facilities.” It also mandates employer-provided training, as well as refresher courses every two years, with certificates available as proof of completion.
Will the legislation make an impact on the disparity of maternal mortality rates? It is too early to tell, but at least California is trying to collect data to see where the problems are. Georgia, which ranks 49th out of the 50 states for maternal mortality rates, could take a lesson. By collecting data and mandating training, the state could see a much lower maternal mortality rate in the years to come.
At Harris Lowry Manton LLP, we are committed to supporting Georgia families who have suffered devastating consequences involving maternal mortality or other pregnancy and childbirth complications. To arrange a free case evaluation, complete our contact form or call us today at 404.998.8847 in Atlanta, or 912.417.3774 in Savannah.