Health care professionals are working to increase awareness and advance women’s health services in Cy-Fair as the Texas rate of maternal mortality—when a mother dies from pregnancy-related complications while pregnant or within 42 days of giving birth, as defined by the World Health Organization—has garnered national and statewide attention in recent months for its seemingly high numbers.
The state’s maternal mortality rate increased from 10.1 deaths per 100,000 births in 2005 to 38.7 deaths in 2012 before declining slightly to 32.5 deaths in 2015, according to a 2017 report from Texas Health and Human Services. The U.S. maternal mortality rate increased from 15.1 deaths per 100,000 births in 2010 to 20.9 deaths in 2015.
Although a 2016 study reported the maternal mortality rate in Texas nearly doubled from 2010 to 2012, many national and local health experts credit the rapid increase to overreporting and incomplete data. In fact, the U.S. has not published an official national mortality rate since 2007.
The UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston found the rate of maternal morbidity in Harris County increased 53 percent between 2008 and 2015. During this same time, Texas saw a 15 percent increase.
Markisha Mitchell, a registered nurse and community relations professional at Medella Urgent Care in Vintage Park, said there are four major reasons for higher pregnancy-related deaths: poor access to health care, discrimination, lack of information about family planning options and a health care provider shortage.
“We are not exactly sure why a country that touts itself as having the best health care system has this problem,” Mitchell said.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reported the state’s maternal mortality and morbidity rates are around 14.6 deaths per 100,000 live births. The study also found that African-American women and women older than age 35 face the greatest risk for maternal death.
Heath Rushing, senior vice president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Cypress, said the hospital is seeking a Level II designation for neonatal services. He said the demographics of Cy-Fair create an increasing demand for services for women and children, such as a neonatal intensive care unit.
“We are ready to take care of the moms first and foremost and then, of course, once the baby arrives, it’s important to have a support process for making sure that we can care for all of the infants,” Rushing said. “That includes our smallest of infants and our NICU babies.”
Meanwhile, officials at the Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital have embarked on an expansion of the hospital’s on-site childbirth center.
The first phase of the project, which is nearing completion, includes remodeling labor and delivery rooms and renovating the obstetrics emergency department. The second phase, which will begin around mid-2019, involves adding nine new antepartum rooms where expectant mothers can be observed and treated in the event that any complications arise.
Earlier this year, the Willowbrook hospital also become the first in the northwest Houston area to offer midwifery services, including well-women care and breastfeeding support.
Hospital Corporation of America’s Gulf Coast Division—which owns Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital and 13 other hospitals in the region that deliver babies—reported zero maternal deaths since 2017, said Holly Elliot, HCA Gulf Coast Division Vice President of Women’s Services.
“[Maternal mortality] is still a concern for us,” Elliot said. “This is an indicator that we look at each month as a part of our quality care scorecard.”
HCA Gulf Coast assigned a number of experts to work with the Houston Endowment’s Maternal Mortality Steering Committee, which outlined nine solutions in April to improve maternal health—including improving data collection and analysis of women’s health and increasing access to primary care.
“HCA Gulf Coast will adopt these recommendations made by the Houston Endowment,” Elliot said. “We will work with our physicians in each of our markets to ensure that we are focusing on the prevention of maternal death.”
Additional reporting By Shawn Arrajj and Chevall Pryce