Michigan health department works to combat maternal mortality rates

Just last month, the World Health Organization reported some shocking new data that experts are calling quote "setbacks" as it relates to maternal health. Including this statistic globally it’s estimated every two minutes a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth.

"Why this is so important to Michigan to the United States globally is it’s an indicator really of how our overall health and well-being as a community or society is," said Dawn Shanafelt.

Shanafelt is the director of MDHHS' Division of Maternal and Infant Health.

"Maternal well-being, health, death, is linked to infant health outcomes," she said.

All the more reason why in Michigan, state leaders are working hard to combat rising maternal mortality numbers through programming and other efforts. This has been spearheaded by their expanded Maternal Mortality Review Committee - one that’s been around since the 1950s.

"Previously the committee was comprised of predominately clinical team members, heath department public health members, which again are very important," said Shanafelt. "But our maternal mortality committee now includes: doulas, home visitors, social workers."

Which means, even more data to review. Recent data shows, on average, between 80-90 maternal deaths occur every year during pregnancy, birth, or within one year of those. The numbers are even higher among pregnant women of color.

"In 2017 there were 77 deaths. in 2018, 82, and in 2019, 83. So sadly we’re fairly stagnant which is obviously fairly concerning as to why that is," she said.

Which is why MDHHS is getting even more granular...breaking down maternal mortality research and data into categories...pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated.

"I know that can be confusing sometimes when we’re looking at the deaths and those are deaths that aren’t specifically related to pregnancy, so things like motor vehicle accidents, homicide, drowning," Shanafelt said.

Hypertensive disorders were the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths from 2015 to 2019, even more so among women of color.

"Black women had an overall rate of 29.8, white women 10.7," she said.

So,how is the state making a difference? Shanafelt says they’re continuing to address root causes and the systems in place. Most important though, they’re listening.