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A setback for women’s health

August 30, 2018 12:06 am

Learning the mortality rate among mothers during childbirth is rising in the state can be compared to hearing that a cholera outbreak was reported in Manhattan. We thought both had long been eradicated.

With U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand acknowledging the upward trend and proposing federal legislation to authorize $40 million a year over five years for hospitals to develop standard maternal safety practices, the question we have to ask is how and when it became so risky to bring a new life into the world?

Given today’s advanced medical technology, it’s shocking that New York has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the United States. Equally shocking is that the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world.

This is utterly and completely disgraceful. It’s a women’s health crisis of the highest urgency, yet it seems to be a dirty little secret in the world of modern medicine.

The state ranks 30th in the nation in maternal mortality in 2018, reporting 20.6 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to a survey by America’s Health Rankings, which evaluates the nation’s health annually, state by state. Incredibly, maternal mortality rates in the state have skyrocketed 60 percent since 2008.

The tragedy of the story is that maternal mortality is largely avoidable. Sixty percent of maternal deaths are caused by preventable complications such as hemorrhaging and a condition called preeclampsia, which is characterized by high blood pressure and damage to other organ systems, most often the liver and kidneys, according to the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fortunately, Greene County reported no deaths for the decade 2006-15 and Columbia County reported none from 2012-15, according to the state Health Department, so the Twin Counties have largely dodged the crisis.

But when Gillibrand says many hospitals in the state are not equipped, and their staffs are not trained, to handle a childbirth emergency when it arises, it’s a frightening scenario. At the end of Gillibrand’s five-year legislation, will we say the government threw money at the problem and still the women kept dying?

The solution is not more money but more training. We must have as much faith in the human element as we have in the medical machines of modern hospitals. And we must have restored confidence that emergency doctors and nurses can save women’s lives.