According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, about 700 women die each year in the United States from pregnancy-related complications. Three out of five of those deaths, the CDC says, are preventable.
But that’s not the whole story. That data also reveals that black women are three to four times more likely to die from those complications.
New York ranks 30th in the nation for maternal mortality rates, according to a report by a state task force delivered to the Governor in the spring. The report said the state’s rate in 2016 was 19.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
In response to the report, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation over the summer creating a new Maternal Mortality Review Board to investigate maternal deaths statewide. This month, he announced the appointed 21 members. He also announced that the board would receive support from a $450,000 CDC grant.
Pathologist Dr. Bernard Ng is one of the board members. He’s the chair of Pathology at Ellis Medicine and says the board is formulating their plan to start investigations into maternal deaths and the associated racial disparities.
“We’re employing a uniform, standardized, systematic way of cataloging the type of findings associated with each [maternal] death,” Ng said, “Hopefully from that some pattern will evolve, and we can use that to create a best practice recommendation that can be adopted across the state.”
The board isn’t the only organization investigating the causes of high maternal mortality. Researchers at the University at Albany have developed a storytelling project that they’re hoping will shed some light on what’s behind the problem. Students and volunteers train to be “listeners” and record the pregnancy and birthing experiences of women in the community—with a particular focus on women of color.
Chloe Ann Blaise, a recent UAlbany grad, is one of the listeners.
“It’s literally killing black women,” Blaise says. “I think that our healthcare system and our government need to pay special attention to this crisis because it’s specifically about being black.”
Blaise and others involved in the study hope to collect more stories over the course of the year and use the insight to spread awareness of the issue.