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Maternal Mortality Review Committee says New Mexico’s high number of deaths are overwhelmingly preventable


The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality among wealthy nations. And New Mexico has nearly double the national rate of pregnancy-related mortality. Experts told lawmakers this week that this is an urgent issue.

The Pregnancy-Related Mortality Ratio nationwide is 17 deaths per 100,000 live births, but in New Mexico that figure is 31 deaths. That’s according to a report by the Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which delivered its annual report to the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee.

Abby Reese is program manager of the Maternal Health Program at the New Mexico Department of Health and Program Director of ERASE Maternal Mortality. She said the committee is currently reviewing 48 deaths in 2021 alone, which is more than double the amount than any other year previously. Mental health, especially substance use disorders, plays a large role in New Mexico numbers.

"Substance use was a significant contributing factor, 55% of deaths that were determined to be pregnancy related. It is a huge driver. And also, we are going to continue to look closely at discrimination because our committee found that 48% of deaths that were considered pregnancy related there was some evidence of discrimination in the records" said Reese.

The report also found rates of pregnancy-related death were higher for those on Medicaid, but Reese stressed that this isn’t a causal relationship, but reflects poverty levels and policy decisions to expand the range of coverage. Reese says that maternal mortality is preventable over 80% of the time.

"You all know that access to hospital based maternity services is limited and shrinking in our state" Reese said.

The committee recommends lawmakers increase access to behavioral health supports, treatment programs for substance use disorder, and to the range of providers like doulas and mental health specialists.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.