More Than Half of Ohio Maternal Deaths In Four Years Could Have Been Prevented

Supermajority Education Fund

November 18, 2019

A new study in Ohio found that more than half of all pregnancy-related deaths in the state between 2012 and 2016 could have been prevented. The 81-page report, which was published by the Ohio Department of Health on Friday, studied pregnancy-related deaths going as far back as 2008. The report found that women in Ohio died from pregnancy-related deaths at a rate of 14.7 per 100,000 births in the full eight-year period and that nearly 51 maternal deaths between 2012 and 2016 —  could have been prevented.

“In this era, in the United States, it’s absolutely unacceptable to see this many moms die,” Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, told Supermajority News in a phone interview. 

Acton previously worked in public health and preventative medicine, and she knows the state can do better. She said this report —which she’s called “landmark” — better positions Ohio Department of Health to improve the lives of its citizens. In fact, the report showed that volunteer clinicians who helped evaluate the deidentified cases (meaning there’s no identifiable information in the medical records) on the Ohio Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review committee are “really doing the kind of detailed work that is now making us a national leader” in identifying the problems that contribute to maternal health and working toward a solution in public health, Acton said.

The current reality, however, indicates how much more work there still is to do. The report also found black women in Ohio “died at a rate more than two and a half times” more than white women. “This is true regardless of socioeconomic status,” Acton added. It also found that preventable deaths were highest among deaths from “pre-eclampsia and eclampsia” (characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy). Eighty-five percent of those deaths were determined to be preventable, according to the report. Acton also noted that the report found that leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths are “cardiovascular and coronary conditions, followed by infections, hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, and cardiomyopathy.”

But Acton is hopeful about the future. This year, the Ohio Department of Health was awarded $10 million in federal grants by the Health Resources and Services Administration to further study and prevent maternal mortality. The state has also been awarded $2.2 million over five years to study opiate use and misuse by pregnant women, which the agency hopes will allow them to improve health outcomes, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acton said Ohio is one of six states doing similar work to study opiates relating to pregnancy. “Hopefully, that’s an area our state can find innovative solutions,” she told Supermajority News. “We have a slightly better situation than the national average, but it’s still unacceptable.