DHEC announces plan to curb pregnancy-related deaths

  • Thursday, December 26, 2013

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced last week the formation of a new committee to review pregnancy-associated deaths in the state.

“The number of women who die during or within one year of pregnancy is on the rise nationwide,” said agency director Catherine Templeton. “To help ensure that women stay healthy during and after pregnancy, DHEC is partnering with medical experts across the state to form the first-ever South Carolina Pregnancy-Associated Maternal Mortality Review Board.”

Templeton said the new board would meet regularly to review and classify deaths and help communities identify opportunities to make pregnancy and the postpartum period safer for women in South Carolina.

“We know that maternal death is a tragedy that results in incalculable loss to individual families and communities,” said Scott Sullivan, M.D., director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at MUSC. “We must do everything we can do to change this trend. This new review panel is an important step to understanding what is occurring in South Carolina and identifying action items for the obstetric community.”

Between 2009 and 2012, 41 women died during childbirth or within six weeks of delivery.

“Fortunately, maternal deaths during childbirth are rare in South Carolina,” said Amy Picklesimer, M.D., assistant professor with the University of South Carolina Greenville School of Medicine. “When they do happen, it is important to look for lessons we can learn that will help us prevent similar circumstances for other women.”

Nearly 50 percent of maternal deaths are preventable, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The lessons we learn aren’t just about the circumstances leading to a particular maternal death, but often can help identify other ‘near misses’,” Picklesimer said. “Understanding the causes of maternal mortality in South Carolina provides us with the keys to improving healthcare for all the pregnant women in our state.”

“The importance of comprehensive maternal mortality review is to identify systems issues that could be improved upon to decrease maternal deaths,” said Judith Burgis, M.D., chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

Dr. Burgis said examples of possible systems-level changes include creating hemorrhaging protocols and protocols for identifying and treating heart disease in pregnancy statewide.

The first meeting of the South Carolina Pregnancy-Associated Maternal Mortality Review Board will be held in January.

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