Ga. House health chair laments maternal death research budget cut

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine, speaks at Thursday's meeting of the House maternal mortality study committee. The meetings have been drawing a crowd. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

A proposed budget cut to planned think tank research focused on Georgia’s high rate of maternal death loomed large at a legislative meeting focused on the problem.

“Let me tell you right before – yesterday, I lobbied the governor’s office to get the $500,000 back for (Morehouse),” state Rep. Sharon Cooper, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said to Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice as the president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine prepared to speak Thursday.

Morehouse was expecting $500,000 from the state to help launch its Center for Excellence on Maternal Mortality. But that money is now ensnared in Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budget cuts for this year and next.

The historically black college says it still plans to open the center, though.

Rice said the college wants to gain a better understanding of why women wait to seek care, as well as why there can be delays in reaching and receiving adequate health care.

She said the center wants to also look at the “near misses” in maternal mortality so insights can be gained on how to intervene faster by collecting more data on women who may be at risk of maternal mortality.

“Dead women cannot talk. They cannot speak,” Rice said. “And so we have to hear from the women who survived and understand what we did not do well enough to give them the confidence to come in sooner.”

Rice said there is a need to dig deeper to understand why black women are at least three times more likely to die than their white counterparts.

“We believe that we have the trust of the community and can go out and ask some difficult questions and come back with some answers that hopefully can help us with an intervention that we can systematize, not just here in Georgia but nationally,” she said.

A state review concluded this year that 60% of pregnancy-related deaths in Georgia were preventable. The leading cause of death was cardiomyopathy. Other common causes of death include hemorrhage and cardiovascular and coronary conditions.

Georgia has long struggled with high rates of maternal mortality, although some question the accuracy and fairness of rankings that at times put Georgia at the bottom based on preliminary estimates.

Lawmakers established a Maternal Mortality Review Committee in 2012 that studies individual cases and compiles a report based on the aggregate data. But the work is tedious and reports slow to materialize, with the 2019 report covering the 2012-2014 timeframe.

Of the deaths reviewed, 40% were found to be related to the woman’s pregnancy, meaning her death was not the result of a car wreck or some other unrelated cause. Many of the deaths happened just after the woman gave birth.

Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

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