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United Health Foundation report finds maternal deaths in Kentucky extend into postpartum period

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Maternal mortality has increased in Kentucky, and the latest data from the United Health Foundation show more moms – especially those of color – are struggling with substance use and mental distress, during and after pregnancy.

Ashley Brandt, director of early care and education with Metro United Way in Kentucky, said the findings come as more families lag behind amid the rising cost of living, lack of affordable child care, and other systemic issues.

(Research shows Black women have a maternal mortality rate nearly three times that of white women in the United States. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

She added that most maternal deaths are preventable.

“It’s really just an indicator that we’re not setting up the system to support families from day one,” said Brandt, “which impacts the rest of their lives.”

Barriers to preventive care for high-blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic conditions during pregnancy are also driving factors.

According to the latest available state data, more than half of maternal mortality cases in Kentucky were linked to a substance use disorder.

National Medical Director for Maternal and Child Health at UnitedHealthcare Lisa Saul said deaths related to suicide and drug use, in the months after a mom leaves the hospital, have spiked in the past few years.

“What we’re finding is that maternal mortality is not just confined to the hospital stay and to birth,” said Saul. “But really, we’re seeing an impact in terms of deaths in the postpartum period.”

Infant deaths are also on the rise. According to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, congenital syphilis among babies has become more than ten times as common in the past decade.

Last year, the disease caused 231 stillbirths and 51 infant deaths. In many of those cases, the person giving birth had received no prenatal care.

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