The alarming rise in maternal deaths in the United States has become a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the number of individuals dying from pregnancy-related causes has more than doubled over the past two decades. This devastating trend affects all racial and ethnic groups, with the worst outcomes observed among Black women, Native American and Alaska Native people. As medical malpractice lawyers representing victims of birth related injuries and deaths, we are deeply concerned about the persistently high maternal mortality rates and the disparities that continue to place certain populations at greater risk.
The study highlights the detrimental impact of structural racism and the historical lack of access to adequate healthcare services on maternal mortality rates
The disparities in healthcare outcomes are further exacerbated for populations that have been historically underserved. Black women, in particular, have consistently experienced the highest maternal death rates, which have more than doubled over the past two decades. Similarly, the rates for Native American and Alaska Native people have tripled during the same period.
One disturbing finding from the study is that efforts to address maternal deaths have not only stalled in areas with traditionally high rates, such as the South, but they are also worsening in regions that are considered to have better overall health. States like New York, New Jersey, Wyoming, Montana, and parts of the Midwest and Northern Mountain States have experienced significant increases in maternal mortality among various racial and ethnic groups. Even for white women, whose maternal mortality rates have been relatively lower, there are parts of the country where these rates are increasing.
A striking contrast emerges when comparing the maternal mortality rates in the United States to those in other high-income countries
While countries like the Netherlands, Austria, and Japan have witnessed a steady decline in maternal deaths, the U.S. continues to have alarmingly high rates that are moving in the opposite direction. This stark contrast indicates that the problem is not insurmountable but rather calls attention to the need for a different approach.
One key factor contributing to the disparate outcomes is the lack of comprehensive care and support provided to new mothers in the United States
In countries with lower maternal mortality rates, services are wrapped around new mothers, encompassing not only physical health but also mental health, cardiovascular care, diabetic management, and pelvic health. These services are considered standard and accessible to all postpartum individuals. However, in the U.S., such comprehensive support is not universally available, leading to missed opportunities for early detection and management of health conditions that can contribute to maternal deaths.
A significant finding from the study is that most maternal deaths are deemed preventable by state review committees.
The leading risk factors for pregnancy-related deaths include cardiovascular disease, severe pre-eclampsia, maternal cardiac disease, hemorrhage, and ongoing heart problems and mental health conditions. It is crucial to note that the majority of deaths occur during the immediate postpartum period. Access to healthcare during this critical period is essential, particularly for those who rely on Medicaid, as approximately half of all births in the U.S. are covered by this program. Extending medical coverage for at least a year after childbirth, as implemented by 35 states and Washington D.C., can significantly reduce the risks faced by new mothers.
The escalating maternal mortality rates in the United States demand urgent action and a comprehensive approach to address the underlying factors contributing to this crisis. It is imperative to acknowledge and combat structural racism and healthcare disparities that disproportionately affect communities of color.