Researchers Say Texas Needs Standards For Maternal Death Investigations
A statewide task force ran into some issues getting good information last year when it was asked to write a report on why so many women in Texas were dying during pregnancy or shortly after.
In fact, these issues were a big part of the report it finally released to lawmakers. Now, state lawmakers are looking at ways to fix the problems.
In a two-year period starting in 2010, the state saw its maternal mortality rate double, according to a study in a national medical journal published last year.
Shortly after that report was published, a state task force released similar findings, but neither study was able to explain exactly what happened.
Dr. Lisa Hollier, the lead researcher of that task force, had said there were issues with the investigations into some of the deaths.
“There was an inconsistency in the quality of the investigations,” she said.
She also said the problems stemmed from the spotty nature of death investigation procedures in the state. Protocol varies from county to county – and remember, there are 254 of those in Texas.
Hollier told state lawmakers during a hearing in the Texas Senate on Wednesday that some deaths should have been investigated by a medical examiner, but they weren’t.
She asked state lawmakers to consider creating some standards.
“The use of a standardized protocol for reporting and investigation of deaths could reduce these inconsistences and improve the ability to identify a cause of death,” Hollier said.
State Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, introduced a bill that would mandate the state to come up with clear protocols.
Specifically, the bill asks the Department of State Health Services to promote best practices to improve the quality of maternal death reporting, investigations and death certificate data.
Evelyn Delgado, who works at the state agency, told lawmakers the bill would also direct her agency to come up with a standard comprehensive toxicology screening. This would give the state a better idea of how many of these deaths involved controlled substances.
“This would allow us to go look for that information, find the best practices and then post those to our website," she said, "so that going forward we would have a consistent way to look at all of these things."
Women’s health advocates have argued the timing of the spike in maternal deaths coincides with cuts to the state’s family-planning program. State officials had also cut Planned Parenthood out of the program at the time.
But during Wednesday's hearing, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said the cuts were unrelated and called those claims "misinformation."
Sen. Miles’ bill is now pending in committee.