On October 27th, the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity convened to discuss data and disparities among Kentuckians, including a conversation on maternal health. Dr. Edward Miller, the Chief Diversity Officer at U of L Health and a maternal fetal medicine doctor, presented on the state of maternal mortality and pregnancy-related deaths in Kentucky.

Dr. Miller highlighted data showing the rates of maternal mortality and pregnancy-related death in Kentucky, which are disproportionately higher among Black women than women of other races. According to recent data, Black women are twice as likely to experience maternal death than White women in Kentucky. Not only are there disparities in these outcomes, but the number of maternal and pregnancy-related deaths are increasing across the board, specifically related to COVID-19. The cause of these deaths ranges from complications from pregnancy or aggravation of a pre-existing medical condition, to overdose and suicide.

Although the maternal deaths recorded in Kentucky result from both accidental and natural causes, over 75% are considered preventable. Mothers need to be healthy, have access to the care and services they need, and have the necessary resources to meet basic needs throughout their pregnancy, birth, and after welcoming a new child.

The causes of disparities in outcomes among Black pregnant women are complex, but we know Black women are less likely to receive prenatal care during their first trimester and less likely to receive adequate care throughout their pregnancy, regardless of access to providers or insurance coverage. These disparities in care contribute to higher risk pregnancies and can impact birth outcomes, such as low birthweight and preterm births.

In order to address these disparities and improve maternal death outcomes for Kentuckians, we must continue to collect data by race and identify solutions to reduce maternal mortality. Dr. Miller highlighted solutions that include addressing systemic racism that exists in our hospital systems and the way we care for pregnant women, increasing access to providers, and ensuring women have supports such as food security and transportation to meet their basic needs.

Tune in to the next meeting of the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity on November 15th at 11:00 AM ET, for continued discussion of maternal health, including doula access.

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