Texas State Health Services aiming to address maternal depression, mortality and morbidity

TEXAS – A report out from Texas State Health Services looks at ways to improve the rate of maternal deaths in Texas.

Every year, based on the preterm birth rates, the March of Dimes scores Texas and Harris County. According to the March of Dimes, Harris County gets an F.

That data is sparking change. Although, it’s too late for some families.

Four-year-old Rian never got to meet her mother, Tomara Johnson.

“She wishes she knew her mommy. Even at four. And to think that we have so many children, so many families, who are growing up without that mother being a part of their family system is tragic,” said maternal advocate and spokesperson for the Johnson family, Janice Hale-Harris.

Texas State Health Services said 89% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, and racial and ethnic disparities persist in maternal mortality and morbidity.

The report also outlines the main underlying and contributing factors for why this happens:

  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Mental disorders
  • Obstetric hemorrhage
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia
  • Infection
  • Embolism
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Pulmonary conditions

In response to this finding, the state said they’re making an effort to fund programs to identify risk factors and delete stigmas surrounding them.

“It’s one little cog in the wheel. What can we do to get healthcare professionals to pay more attention to the mothers?” Hale-Harris asked.

Dr. Angela Haynes Burgess with UT Health Houston and Memorial Hermann said, “If we know any women who are economically disadvantaged, as well as those who may have prenatal substance abuse, it’s important to ask these questions, and to note that every woman is at risk so not only targeted screening, but also a universal screening of all women going through the postpartum.”

Tomara Johnson said her symptoms were acute and somehow missed, according to Harris-Hale.

“Her blood pressure was extremely high. Who was paying attention to that?” Harris-Hale said.

That’s why medical experts and maternal advocates agree more people need to be on the lookout for risk factors that can kill up to a year after birth.

“If your loved one’s blood pressure is spiking, you have to know that there is a problem there. If the patient becomes lethargic, for example, there’s bleeding that’s going on in the body, and nobody knows that,” Harris-Hale said. “We have to begin to care as much about mothers as we do about the babies. We have to listen to the mothers, we have to care about them, and we have to really believe that Black and Brown women and their survival is equally important to every other group in America.”

According to another study published in the medical journal JAMA, overdoses accounted for one in six pregnancy-associated deaths in 2020. Overall, the number of overdose deaths in pregnant women represented an almost 50% spike from the year before and an 80% increase since 2017. Rates were found to be higher among women who were late postpartum, meaning it had been six weeks to a year after they’d given birth.