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Legislation aims to address mothers’ deaths

The number of women dying shortly after giving birth is on the rise in the U.S., a disturbing trend New Mexico Rep. Xochitl Torres Small hopes to reverse.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small

The first-term Democrat has introduced legislation aimed at addressing the issue that may soon come up for a vote on the House floor.

“We are the only industrialized nation where the maternal death rate is increasing,” Torres Small told the Journal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths of mothers increased from 7.2 per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016. Rural parts of the U.S. have 60% higher mortality rates, according to 2015 data from the CDC. The report says the mortality rate in large central metropolitan areas was 18.2 per 100,000 live births, compared with 29.4 per 100,000 live births in the most rural areas.

Key provisions of Torres Small’s Rural MOMS Act are included in the Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act, which passed the Energy and Commerce Health Committee earlier this month, and was recommended to the House of Representatives for a full vote.

Her legislation would research the reasons for the trend. Torres Small believes limited access to health care for expectant mothers in rural areas is a factor.

“So many pregnant women in rural areas have to travel as much as two hours or across state lines to receive care,” she said.

The legislation would seek to identify the locations of gaps in maternity care, make recommendations to standardize data collection on maternal mortality and morbidity, and activities to improve maternal care in rural areas.

Torres Small said the bill would expand existing federal telehealth grant programs to include birth and postnatal services as part of telehealth networks. She said during a recent tour of health care facilities that programs could help facilities, such as Socorro General Hospital, which is in the 2nd Congressional District that she represents. Socorro General serves such communities as the Alamo Navajo Reservation, which is about a 45-minute drive away.

“The legislation would also provide incentives for health care providers to recruit physicians, obstetricians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives and doulas to rural communities,” Torres Small said.

The incentives would include educational assistance, she said. The educational assistance comes in the form of specialized fellowships for medical residents to train in maternal health-related fields in rural areas.

Torres Small said the legislation also establishes programs to address racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.

“Expectant moms in rural areas should be able to get all the care they need to have a healthy pregnancy and family,” she said.

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