HCHD Spearheads Efforts to Stem High Infant/Maternal Death Rates in Harris County

HOUSTON (June 30, 2010) – Harris County has a rate of mothers dying from childbirth and pregnancy-related complications greater than 56 other countries. The rate 31.3 per 100,000 live births is more than double the U.S. rate of 15.1 and four times greater than Canada’s. 

In response, the Harris County Hospital District is spearheading a call-to-action collaborative to address the serious issue.

While maternal mortality rates are high, Harris County also has a high infant mortality rate, according to statistics tracked by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Following a drop to 5.93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001, the rate of infants dying before their first birthday reached a high of 6.81 per 1,000 live births in 2005, the highest death rate in a decade. African-American infants had the highest death rates followed by white and Hispanic.

“This is a tragedy that we as a community cannot accept,” says Dr. Margo Hilliard, senior vice president, Community Services, Harris County Hospital District. “Given Harris County’s abundance of health care resources, mothers and babies should not be dying at such alarmingly high rates. The time for action is now.”

Not surprisingly, the statistics also show a steady increase in premature births – jumping from a low of 9 per 1,000 births in 1995 to a high of 13.5 per 1,000 births in 2007. 

A meeting, Impacting Maternal and Prenatal Care Together (IMPACT) Collaborative of Greater Houston, to discuss resources, public awareness, quality care measures and legislative advocacy on the topic will be held June 30 at the United Way Resource Center in Houston.

Nearly 20 percent of Harris County’s 249 ZIP codes has infant mortality rates above the national average of 6.69 deaths per 1,000 live births. Additionally, 13 of these ZIP codes have infant death rates 2.5 to 3 times higher than the healthy community goals established in Healthy People 2010 by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Much of these at-risk areas are concentrated to the north and east of Interstate 45 and south and east of State Highway 288. 

Among premature births, all but four of the county’s ZIP codes fall below the nation’s Healthy People 2010 recommendations of 7.6 per 1,000 live births. A premature birth is one delivered before 37 weeks.

Not surprisingly, as death rates for infant and mothers continue to climb, so too does the trend of cases where no prenatal care is sought. In 2008, the state’s department of health reported 13.4 percent of expectant mothers received late (care during their third trimester). No prenatal care at all has increased from 2.9 in 2006 to 4.9 percent in 2008 for all births.

To address the issue of infant and maternal mortality, Harris County Hospital District is convening IMPACT to raise awareness of the situation and has made accessing medical care through its network of hospitals and health centers easier. For qualified patients, all prenatal care appointments are made without requiring clinic fees. The hospital district also has begun offering expectant mothers more birthing options including CenteringPregnancy® and midwifery care. Additionally, free pregnancy tests are offered at select sites.

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