Governor Wolf Signs Bill to Investigate Maternal Deaths

May 09, 2018

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today signed House Bill 1869 into law, now Act 24 of 2018, the primary intent of which is to create a 15-member Maternal Mortality Review Committee within the Department of Health to collect confidential information or investigate and disseminate findings related to maternal deaths. Prior to passage of this legislation there was no mechanism for collecting this important data, which can lead to systemic changes needed to decrease maternal mortality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), maternal deaths have been rising in the United States since 2000, while they have decreased in nearly every other country in the world. The rate has more than doubled in Pennsylvania since 1994.

Philadelphia’s Maternal Mortality Review team (MMR), the only city in the state to have an MMR, determined 27.9 women died per 100,000 live births in the city during a three-year period from 2010-2012 for pregnancy-related mortality (pregnancy to a year post pregnancy).

“With the alarming rate of maternal deaths in Pennsylvania, establishing this committee will help take immediate action in determining the reasons for this phenomenon and, more importantly, help to develop prevention recommendations,” Governor Wolf said.

“The rising number of maternal deaths is a serious public health concern in Pennsylvania, particularly among minority populations,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “This committee will allow us to bring stakeholders from various areas of maternal health care and other experts together to identify what can be done to reduce the number of maternal deaths. We are committed to providing for the health, safety and well-being of Pennsylvania’s mothers.”

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, will establish a committee consisting of the Secretary of Health or her designee, an obstetrician, a maternal fetal medicine specialist, a certified nurse-midwife, a registered nurse representing maternal health care, a psychiatrist, an addiction medicine specialist, a social worker or social service provider, a medical examiner or coroner responsible for recording deaths, an emergency medical services provider, a health statistician, a representative of the department’s bureau of family health programs, three individuals specializing in emergency medicine, family medicine, pathology, anesthesiology, cardiology, critical care, or any other relevant medical specialty, and additional personnel at the discretion of the secretary.

“Pennsylvania mothers deserve the best possible health care, and by establishing a Maternal Mortality Review Committee here in the commonwealth we can make sure the latest information on conditions and treatment options impacting expectant mothers is shared with medical professionals across the state,” said Rep. Ryan Mackenzie.

“This long-awaited legislation allows us to conduct a multidisciplinary review of maternal deaths, with the goal of seeing where and perhaps why women are dying as the result of childbirth,” Rep. Florindo Fabrizio said. “Ultimately, our hope is saving the lives of mothers across our commonwealth.”

“This bill is a relatively simple policy approach, providing a means for preventing the worst sort of pain a family can experience,” Sen. Lisa Baker said. “By bringing together the best experts to take a hard look at the circumstances surrounding cases when a mother loses her life, the purpose of this bill is of great importance. Where possible, analyze and figure out if there is some pattern to these tragedies.  See if effective remedies can be devised and implemented.”

“I find it appalling that over the span of 14 years, the U.S. maternal mortality rate increased by 26 percent,” Rep. Judy Schwank said. “That’s why this legislation is so important. We need data – accurate data – to find ways to improve quality of care and educate health professionals, women, and families about preventing pregnancy-related deaths and complications.”

The Maternal Mortality Review Committee also may consult with any relevant stakeholders or experts if identifying information of patients or health care providers is not disclosed. Members must be appointed within 60 days of enactment of the bill and the committee must meet annually, at a minimum, with the first meeting held within 60 days of today.

“On behalf of the Pennsylvania Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (PA ACOG), as well as the mothers and families of this commonwealth, we applaud the unanimous approval of this bill establishing a statewide maternal mortality review committee,” said Dr. Amanda Flicker of PA ACOG and Lehigh Valley Health Network.  “We look forward to partnering with the Department of Health to turn the tides on the rising rate of maternal deaths. This Sunday is Mother’s Day—a day to honor and celebrate mothers everywhere. We cannot think of a better way than legislation focused on improving maternal health.”

“Every untimely death of a mother is a tragedy,” said Aleks Casper, Regional Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs for March of Dimes. “The Maternal Mortality Review Act will bring much-needed scrutiny to the death of mothers during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. By examining each of these cases, we can better understand the causes of maternal deaths in Pennsylvania, identify patterns, and design interventions to prevent them in the future.”

“As a midwife, I’m so glad to see this multidisciplinary effort come to fruition,” said Dana Perlman, PA Association of Certified Nurse-Midwives. “We must listen to women, and the Maternal Mortality Review Committee is one way to honor the voices of women silenced too soon.”

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