AUSTIN (KXAN) — Maternal health advocates are demanding the state health department release data on why Texas moms are dying and if those deaths were preventable.

The Department of State Health Services first told KXAN investigators that the report by the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Committee would be released by next summer but now it’s expected to be out ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

“This is not just numbers on the page. These are lives of women who have died,” said Nakeenya Wilson, a committee member.

Wilson explained that the committee is still in the middle of reviewing 2019 maternal deaths. She’s also the founding member of the Maternal Health Equity Collaborative which advocates to improve maternal health among Black women. The group is demanding the data be released now.

“I think that it was due on Sept. 1, and that’s by law. So, there’s a reason why that timeline exists. Currently, legislators are setting their policy agendas as are other organizations that advocate for families and for health care,” Wilson explained.

December release

The new DSHS Interim Commissioner said she will discuss with the committee the need for updated data and recommendations at the next meeting on Dec. 8.

“My intent is to provide data and recommendations timely to help inform efforts during the 88th Legislative Session. Further, I will ensure the department provides recommendations ahead of the legislative session about how to make the mortality reviews as efficient and beneficial as possible,” said Commissioner Jennifer Shuford in a letter addressed to State Representative Donna Howard, D-Austin, and Chair of the Texas Women’s Health Caucus, which had inquired about the release of the data. 

State Representative Shawn Theirry, D-Houston, tweeted on Thursday a letter she received from Commissioner Shuford writing that DSHS “responded to my letter requesting release of the 2022 maternal mortality & morbidity report.” She added, “@TexasDSHS will now submit the data & recommendations for the 88th #txlege legislature’s review. TY Dr. Shuford; look forward to our upcoming meeting!”

She’s been pushing legislation that would include updated data collection on deaths during or within one year of delivery and high-risk conditions and complications.

Wilson explained that the most recent data is from maternal deaths from 2013. She said according to the older data, Black women across the state have pregnancy-related deaths 2.3 times that of white women. She added that the delay impacts better understanding of what’s causing more deaths.

Wilson explained that the report is required to be released every two years and previously the committee has always released preliminary findings and recommendations based on the data and the cases that are complete.

“Then we go back and make addendums at a later date. So, this is the first time that we’ve not released a report, it’s not uncommon to still have some cases that we still need to review at the time of the release of the report,” she said. 

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office which analyzed CDC data nationally found maternal deaths for Black women was disproportionally higher compared to other women during the pandemic.

“The maternal death rate for Black or African-American (not Hispanic or Latina) women was 44.0 per 100,000 live births in 2019, then increased to 55.3 in 2020, and 68.9 in 2021. In contrast, White (not Hispanic or Latina) women had death rates of 17.9, 19.1, and 26.1, respectively,” detailed the federal government report. 

Rally for mothers

The Maternal Health Equity Collaborative said beyond the data being released the state also needs to extend Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum to better monitor a women’s condition before it becomes life-threatening. The group added that Medicaid should reimburse for doula services and cultural competency training needs to be required for medical professionals.

Advocates and families will be pushing for changes at a rally on Tuesday, Nov. 1 from noon to 1 p.m. at the South Steps of the Capitol.

“The rally will be held at the culmination of Maternal and Infant Pregnancy Loss Month and Día de las Muertos to honor the lives of mothers and infants as well as the families and communities forever impacted by their untimely loss,” said a news release.

Gov. Greg Abbott and all legislators have been invited to participate in what organizers are calling a call to action to prioritize people over politics.

“I believe that every woman, every mother that has been lost to pregnancy and childbirth and postpartum that first year, deserves to be honored. And part of honoring them is taking that loss and turning it into a gain moving forward. We want to honor them. And burying data is essentially equivalent to burying them dishonorably,” said Wilson.