A coalition of black maternal health advocacy organizations plans to hold a rally at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to demand the immediate release of the joint biennial report by the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee (MMMRC) and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). .
The Partnership for Equity in Maternal Health (MHEC), an Austin-based coalition of 6 community-based birthing organizations, is calling on officials to immediately release available data to ensure appropriate actions are taken to address maternal health and safety.
In MMMRC last meeting in September, outgoing DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt informed the commission that its biennial report, originally scheduled for release on August 31, would not be released until next summer.
The delay is due to the emergence of at least 31 additional cases from the 2019 provisional data that need to be analyzed and linked to this report.
Referring to the need for the state to make the report annual, as is done in other states, rather than every 2 years, Hellerstedt said the publication of an accurate report that includes all data is necessary to avoid public confusion and control over changes to the report.
Opposition to the delay revolves around the lack of access to the most up-to-date information that guides best practices and reforms.
The rally is expected to draw stakeholders including state political organizations, grassroots groups and medical experts, and call for bipartisan support to address the existing health disparities among women of color that lead to disproportionate maternal mortality.
State Rep. Sean Thierry (D – Houston) is expected to speak at the rally. Thierry recently received a letter from DSHS stating that maternal health data and recommendations would be released in time for the upcoming legislative session, but did not specify a specific date.
In the letter, DSHS Interim Commissioner Dr. Jennifer Shuford wrote that she plans to attend the next MMMRC meeting on Dec. 8 to “provide timely data and recommendations to help inform efforts during the 88th legislative session “.
Nakinya Wilson, one of the community advocates on the review panel and a representative of the MHEC, said that while she appreciates the efforts to ensure that the panel’s work is not compromised, the reasons for the delay in the panel’s information and recommendations are not relevant to work on the issue in the upcoming session.
Saying that black women face significant disparities in maternal health, she advocated for an earlier release date for the data to better inform policy next year.
“If you want to be [absolutely] I’m sure about the numbers and the percentages and the statistics, then it can be glossed over,” Wilson said. “[But] recommendations and findings may be published. There is enough external data coming out for people to draw their own conclusions.
I think anything can be political if we let it be. So the question is, do we allow public health information to be political, and what are the impacts of that happening?”
One of the members who researches pregnancy-related deaths for the commission, Dr. Amy Raines-Milenkov, initially opposed the delay. Speaking to State of Reform on September 30 after the latest MMMRC meeting, however, Reins-Milenkov said she now supports delaying the report to include the entire 2019 cohort.
She detailed the state’s process for reviewing maternal mortality cases.
“Just to give you an idea of the process, the state requests records after they determine death, and then it will take some time for them to get the medical records, the inquest reports, the autopsies, [and more],” Raines-Milenkov said.
“Then that information comes to us [for review] and then due to a Nursing Practice Act in Texas, we are required to redact all records. This takes some time to edit all the entries and then, once edited, switches to a registry abstraction. The case abstract is where it’s put into a format that can be reviewed by the review committee, then it goes into data entry into the CDC database, then it goes back to the state to be reviewed by the committee.”
“On the one hand, a good, nice report with accurate data is the best you can hope for. But at the same time, there is a great need to have information and these recommendations to the community.”
Timed for Dia de Muertos, the rally is a bipartisan call to action that will hold a special memorial. Organizers will place a marigold on the steps of the state Capitol as “sacrifice” in honor of fallen mothers and mothers-to-be.
Recently CDC report found that more than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the US are preventable. The leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths among non-Hispanic blacks are heart and coronary disease, according to the report.
According to Black Mamas ATX, Black mothers experience rates of maternal mortality 2 to 4 times higher than white women and are at higher risk of developing postpartum depression. Meanwhile, black children account for 11% of births in Texas, but 30% of pregnancy-related deaths are to black women.