Editorial: State must protect mothers

New review board would investigate deaths and complications in childbirth

How is this still happening?

Women are dying and suffering severe medical complications during childbirth in large numbers.

This isn’t 1819 or 1919. It’s 2019.

And this isn’t happening in some faraway, impoverished Third World country. It’s happening in the United States, where maternal deaths during childbirth have risen since 1987 from 7.2 per 100,000 live births to 18 in 2014. 

It’s even worse here in New York.

A USA Today investigation published last year found, overall, “a stunning lack of attention to safety recommendations and widespread failure to protect new mothers.”

The report ranked New York 22nd in maternal mortality, with 19.2 deaths per 100,000 births. Other, recent data ranks New York 30th in the nation.

The statistics reveal not only state-by-state disparities, but significant racial and ethic disparities. For example, black women are nearly four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women.

In addition to dying, women are experiencing serious, unexpected outcomes that result in significant short- or long-term health consequences.

New York needs to get to the root of this problem and find solutions to it. 

On Wednesday, both houses of the Legislature passed bill A03276/S1819, which would create a Maternal Mortality Review Board and a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Advisory Council for the state and New York City.

These organizations would be staffed by a diverse population of health professionals and experts, including women and mothers in medically underserved areas of the state and areas with disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality or morbidity

These groups would carefully review maternal deaths and use this information to make policy and advise on best practices. Among the areas of review would be racial and ethnic disparities.

One section of the proposed law that’s disturbing is the complete secrecy it supports.

We support withholding personal and medical information about individual patients.

But we don’t agree with the provision that “all information and records, meetings, reports and records made and maintained and all books and papers obtained by the board” be confidential and not subject to the state Freedom of Information Law.

This law shouldn’t serve as a smokescreen to protect hospitals and doctors from bad publicity or liability. The state needs to ensure that individual privacy is respected, but not at the complete abdication of transparency.

That these deaths and other complications keep happening in this day and age is appalling, and it’s about time New York state did something about it. 

With modifications to the secrecy portion of the bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo should sign it.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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