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Panelists say more funding, education and access to care are needed to reduce Texas’ maternal mortality rate

We livestreamed our conversation in Tyler on women's health and maternal mortality in Texas. Watch some clips or read the highlights.

After her first pregnancy resulted in a cesarean section and what she described as a “very bad birthing experience,” State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, never got a call from her medical provider to see how she was doing. She said her story is one example of how many women in Texas, even those with health care and education, aren’t getting the proper maternal care they need.

Thierry shared the story publicly during a panel conversation in Tyler on maternal mortality with The Texas Tribune, where panelists emphasized the need for Texas to do more to address disparities in treatment and higher death rates of black mothers in the state.

A new state method for counting and confirming maternal deaths cut the number of Texas women whose deaths were blamed on pregnancy complications in 2012 by more than half. But panelists argued that regardless of new methods of counting, Texas’ maternal mortality rate is still too high.

Here are the main takeaways from the discussion with Thierry, Sherry Duson, the founder and director of the Center for Postpartum Family Health, and Yasser F. Zeid, founder and physician at Zeid Women’s Health Center:

Education and easy access to care is essential for mothers.

Zeid said it’s too late to start educating mothers on pregnancy and care after they’ve given birth, and that education needs to start in the first trimester. He also emphasized the need for postpartum care, saying 40 percent of women who deliver babies in the state receive no postpartum care.

Women in rural areas often don’t have easy access to doctors, so medical problems and questions about their symptoms can go unaddressed. Thierry said, in order to help solve this problem, she’ll be pushing for the state to look into telemedicine, or diagnosing and treating patients from a distance, in underserved areas.

Black mothers are still at a higher risk of dying from pregnancy complications.

Some of the state’s top health experts have found that the rate of black mothers dying during or soon after pregnancy in 2012 was 27.8 per 100,000 live births, compared to 13.6 for white women and 11.5 for Hispanic women.

Thierry said implicit bias toward black women by some medical providers can result in disparities in maternal health care, such as doctors spending less time with black patients and not taking their concerns seriously.

“It’s the elephant in the room, people. That should be a big takeaway from today,” she said.

The state needs to dedicate more funding to reducing maternal mortality.

Thierry said Texas is not spending enough money to reduce maternal mortality, and said the state’s maternal mortality task force needs additional funds to do its extensive research.

Zeid agreed that lack of funding is a major issue when it comes to addressing maternal mortality, and said legislators need to understand that it is not a partisan issue.

“They need to be informed that this money is saving lives … yes, roads are important, education is important, but what are they if people are dying?” he said.

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