Source: North Jersey.com
Calling New Jersey’s rates of death among babies and new mothers “a public health crisis,” Senate Democratic leaders said Wednesday they will make maternal and infant health a priority of the next legislative session.
Following a report in The Record and NorthJersey.com, state Sen. Joseph Vitale, a Woodbridge Democrat who chairs the Health Committee, said he will hold hearings early next year about the huge difference in survival rates among New Jersey’s black and white infants. The hearings will also examine New Jersey’s higher-than-average rate of death among new mothers.
“This should not be happening in our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “This is work that requires our immediate attention…It’s nothing less than a public health crisis.”
Black babies in New Jersey are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than white babies — the widest racial disparity in the nation. As The Record and NorthJersey.com reported last week, if the gap were closed, 95 more children would live to celebrate their first birthdays.
And pregnant women and new mothers in New Jersey die at a rate that was almost double the national average. The state ranked 47th of the 50 states in 2016 for maternal death, or deaths related to childbirth or pregnancy (which excludes deaths due to accidents or other causes), according to America’s Health Rankings, by the United Health Foundation.
Black women were five times more likely to die from maternity related complications, according to the state’s most recent data, from 2009 through 2013.
New Jersey’s poor performance is particularly unacceptable because the state is one of the wealthiest in the nation, Vitale said.
The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will hold hearings “to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure that women and babies in this state get the care they deserve,” he said.
Legislation is being drafted by Vitale and Weinberg to study the infant mortality issue, both said.
Vitale and state Sen. M. Theresa Ruiz, an Essex County Democrat, previously introduced legislation to create a commission that would review the causes of maternal mortality annually and recommend improvements.
The state Department of Health already has a maternal mortality committee that reviews cases of maternal death, but this measure would give a 31-member commission far more authority to scrutinize the causes of death and recommend systemic reforms.
“We cannot accept a system that produces poor health outcomes at any level,” Vitale said. “But when our state is showing drastically disparate outcomes for pregnant women and infants, something is terribly wrong.”