Harris County moms suffer preventable pregnancy complications at unacceptable rates [Editorial]

Houston Chronicle | Opinion/Editorials
April 12, 2018

Let’s get this out of the way: The Chronicle’s Todd Ackerman reported this week a widely publicized 2016 study that found Texas’ rate of maternal mortality to be higher than the rest of the developed world was based on bad state data and, therefore, produced wildly inaccurate results. It turns out that Texas mothers die at a rate consistent with other states, as far as researchers can tell.

We urge Texans not to breathe a sigh of relief, as this does not exonerate us of anything. Texas women are still suffering pregnancy complications at unacceptable rates, and this is especially heartbreaking because in many cases these outcomes are preventable.

A University of Texas study this past fall on severe maternal morbidity — the clinical term for serious pregnancy complications — found that Texas mothers had a rate higher than the national average. Though Harris County boasts some of the world’s best hospitals and research centers, the morbidity rate here jumped an astounding 53 percent between 2008 and 2015. That year, 2.4 percent of Harris County pregnancies had severe complications, the study found.

The 21 indicators of severe morbidity include kidney failure, heart failure, eclampsia, sepsis and shock. With proper pre- and post-natal care, doctors say the risk of these complications can be significantly reduced.

We were disappointed but not surprised to learn that poor women with inadequate access to health care are at greatest risk for complications. According to the study, mothers on Medicaid were worse off than those with private insurance. Black and Latina mothers endured more complications than their white counterparts. And the zip codes with the highest rates of women at risk for severe complications coincide with some of the county’s poorest: Sunnyside, Trinity Gardens, OST/South Union and Webster.

Harris County health providers should consider and implement nine recommendations made recently by the Reducing Maternal Mortality initiative, which was funded by the Houston Endowment.

More at Houston Chronicle