Investigative journalism lives at California Watch, which published this article about maternal mortality. An independent task force investigating the problem found “the most significant spike in pregnancy-related deaths since the 1930s…it’s more dangerous to give birth in California than it is in Kuwait or Bosnia.” But the state has yet to release a report.
This investigation is not the first to reveal higher than officially reported numbers of deaths, but it appears to have gone deeper than previous reviews in Virginia, New York, and Florida. “The group’s initial findings provide the first strong evidence that there is a true increase in deaths — not just the number of reported deaths.” And unlike previous reviews, it sought to determine causes, which are usually attributed to women: obesity, older mothers, and fertility treatments. The data, however, suggest otherwise, according to Elliot Main, MD, the task force’s lead investigator: “What I call the usual suspects are certainly there,” he told California Watch. “However, when we looked at those factors and the data analyzed so far, those only account for a modest amount of the increase.” What then is to blame for the increase?
Main said scientists have started to ask what doctors are doing differently. And, he added, it’s hard to ignore the fact that C-sections have increased 50 percent in the same decade that maternal mortality increased. The task force has found that changing clinical practice could prevent a significant number of these deaths.
While the findings appear to be languishing with the state department of public health, the Joint Commission, which certifies and accredits hospitals, is taking action. On January 26 it issued an alert, stating: “Unfortunately, current trends and evidence suggest that maternal mortality rates may be increasing in the U.S.” After receiving the CA task force’s report, the Commission “issued incentives for hospitals to reduce inductions and fight what it called ‘the cesarean section epidemic.’”