AUSTIN (KXAN) — In 2019, there were 147 maternal deaths, meaning a woman died while pregnant or within one year of giving birth, according to the Department of State and Health Services (DSHS).

Of the deaths that were determined to be connected to pregnancy, 90% of them could have been prevented, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee found. Black women were also disproportionately affected, according to the committee.

“Today, this is a memorial,” said Nakeenya Wilson, an advocate for maternal mortality awareness. “And their lives should be seen as a sacrifice for what we will do better for women in Texas.”

DSHS said a biennial report on maternal mortality data, which was supposed to be released in September, will be available as soon as next week. On Friday, they presented some of the numbers that will be included in the more detailed report.

“[This team] has worked tirelessly to ensure that we have identified all of the data. [They] have worked tirelessly to support this review committee to make sure that we have everything we need to be able to review these cases and ultimately make recommendations to address preventable maternal morbidity and mortality here in Texas,” Dr. Amanda Hall, Associate Commissioner of Community Health Improvement at DSHS, said.

The committee reported that six underlying health conditions accounted for all of the pregnancy-related deaths in 2019, including obstetric hemorrhage, mental health conditions, injury, cardiovascular conditions and infection.

“We also know that disparities persist in maternal mortality, with non-Hispanic Black women being the most disproportionately impacted,” Hall said.

Though the biennial report will be released in 2019, it will also include data from previous years. The last year to have a report of this magnitude from the committee was 2013. 

The committee found that the maternal mortality ratio, the number of deaths per 100,000 live births, has been relatively stable in Texas. From 2013 to 2017, the rate increased from 18.3 to 20.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. The CDC estimated the national average in 2017 was 17.3. 

The national maternal mortality ratio raised in 2020; the COVID-19 pandemic is considered by experts to have played a role in this increase. The same trend is expected to be found in Texas. Information on 2020 deaths will be included in the report next week.  

Report recommendations

The report details several recommendations to help women. The first is that Texas expands access to comprehensive health services for women before pregnancy, during pregnancy and a year after birth.

Another recommendation takes aim at racial disparities.

“We really have to engage black communities and those that support them in the development of maternal and women’s health programs,” said another committee member, Dr. Carla Ortique.

Some lawmakers and activists hope something will be passed in the next legislative session to streamline this review process. The DSHS media relations director, Chris Van Deusen, said that reviewing these cases is more difficult in Texas than in any other state he knows. This has to do with strict requirements surrounding redacting patient or medical provider information on medical documents before they can be reviewed and investigated. 

“It is such a laborious process,” Van Deusen said.