A new report released Thursday by the Mississippi State Department of Health shows that the state’s maternal mortality rate — already one of the highest in America — is worsening.
The report, conducted by 28 health care professionals and advocates who make up the Mississippi Mortality Review Committee, weighed the state’s maternal mortality data from 2017-2019. The most recent state report was released three years ago and weighed data from 2013-2016.
Three years ago, Mississippi’s pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 33.2 deaths per 100,000 live births — the sixth-worst rate in America. But this week’s new report showed the state’s pregnancy-related mortality ratio had increased to 36.0 deaths per 100,000 live births.
And while mortality rates for white mothers are improving slightly in Mississippi compared to three years ago, they are drastically worsening for Black mothers.
Three years ago, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women was 51.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly three times the white ratio of 18.9 deaths. This week’s report, however, showed the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women was 65.1 deaths per 100,000 live births, more than four times the white ratio of 16.2 deaths.
“Regardless of race, maternal loss is a tragedy for everyone, for all of us,” said LeJeuene Johnson, a clinician and advocate who has extensive background in studying maternal mortality in Mississippi and across the nation. “We need to highlight this reality while being sensitive to the fact that this problem has disproportionately affected Black women. It begs tough questions about discrimination, bias, how we evaluate social determinants of health and how that plays a role in our health outcomes.”
The new report was released this week as lawmakers face increasing pressure to extend health care coverage for moms on Medicaid from two months to one year, as 28 other states have done and several others are considering. The committee in its new report this week is the latest to recommend that state leaders extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to one year.
The release of the new report does not appear to be timed to influence debate at the Capitol, but it is expected to reach the desks of every lawmaker in the coming days.
“It is critical that no one walks away from seeing this data thinking Black mothers are dying just because of chronic health issues,” said Dr. Charlene Collier, a member of the Mississippi Mortality Review Committee and Jackson-area OB-GYN. “Gaps in our overall health infrastructure, insufficient obstetric care access, racism and bias in care and the persistent refusal to expand Medicaid are significant contributors to the poor outcomes and disparities we see in Mississippi. Most of these deaths were preventable and there are actions we must take now to create change – like passing postpartum Medicaid (extension), getting more OBs and midwives working in care deserts and clinical training to ensure pregnant and postpartum individuals needing help are heard and receive the best care possible.”
Johnson said that the data, while important, should not distract from the human effects of maternal mortality in the state.
“Behind these numbers are people and their unique stories of loss and tragedy,” Johnson said. “These are mothers. These are sisters and aunts. I’ve spent a long time talking with surviving family members who are experiencing this profound loss. Maternal mortality impacts family structure, a family’s economic ability to survive. And the psychological wellbeing of surviving family members can often be compromised. We have to keep that in mind.”
Mississippi Today’s Kate Royals contributed to this report.