Health care providers, state officials tout new initiatives to combat rise in maternal mortality

In Pennsylvania, pregnancy-related deaths grew by more than 21 percent in the five years between 2013 and 2018, officials said

By: - March 1, 2022 4:33 pm

Isolation and other pandemic stresses can harm pregnant women’s mental health, with effects on their babies too (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images/The Conversation).

HERSHEY, Pa. – When it comes to maternal health services, Pennsylvania needs to do better, one state official said Tuesday. 

Speaking from Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center on Tuesday, Department of Human Services Secretary Meg Snead said that Pennsylvania needs to “do better,” regarding maternal health services, following the release of some “very real and very concerning trends,” reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. 

The CDC report found that from 2019 to 2020 — during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic — maternal mortality rates rose across the United States, climbing from 20.1 deaths per 100,000 births in 2019, to 23.8 in 2020. 

The statistics are even more concerning for pregnant people of color, Snead said. 

Among Black women, the maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 births compared to 44.0 in 2019. The national maternal mortality rate for Black women is nearly three times the rate of non-Hispanic white women, according to CDC data. 

In Pennsylvania, pregnancy-related deaths grew by more than 21 percent in the five years between 2013 and 2018, Snead said. 

Those statistics are why DHS has placed a focus in recent years on “improving maternal health care practices,” Snead said, adding that healthcare providers, such as Penn State Health, have partnered with the department on improvement initiatives. 

One area that Penn State Health has been focused on is addressing perinatal or postpartum depression, which, if left untreated, “can seriously impact daily and long-term health and wellbeing for mothers, can influence child development and can lead to major depressive disorder and, potentially, death,” the department said in a statement. 

In addition to screening patients for postpartum depression before they leave the hospital, the Hershey Medical Center also educates staff on best practices for identifying and treating maternal mental health needs. 

Dr. Amy Cruz, a physician at Penn State Health, speaks about the Hershey Medical Center’s post-partum screening initiatives (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

“Our multidisciplinary approach to the Moving on Maternal Depression initiative reflects our commitment to the total health of our patients and their families, including physical, mental, and emotional health,” Dr. Amy Cruz, an obstetrician/gynecologist and co-lead of the Moving on Maternal Depression (MOMD) program at the Hershey Medical Center said. “We are actively working to enhance knowledge and management of perinatal depression and close the gaps on related racial and ethnic disparities.”

In addition to partnering with health care providers across the commonwealth, Snead reiterated that the Wolf administration intends to extend postpartum coverage for those on Medicaid from 60 days to one year after giving birth, as part of an optional provision in the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Nearly three in 10 births are paid for through Medicaid, Snead said, adding that Medicaid provides health care coverage for 3.3 million Pennsylvanians. 

Snead first announced the administration’s intent to opt-in to the Medicaid extension at a maternal health briefing last August. 

Pa. extends postpartum Medicaid coverage for pregnant persons

The extension will become available on April 1, 2022. 

State Rep. MaryLouise Isaacson, D-Philadelphia, speaks at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Tuesday (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

State Rep. MaryLouise Isaacson, D-Philadelphia, who is also a member of the Legislature’s Women’s Health Caucus, was in attendance Tuesday. 

Isaacson said she wanted to “lend her support” to the initiatives, adding that she was hopeful there would be “adequate funding” for continued support of women’s health care initiatives in the state’s next budget.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.