Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an important HHS Action Plan and announced a partnership to reduce maternal deaths and disparities that put women at risk prior to, during, and following pregnancy. The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams issued a complementary Call to Action to Improve Maternal Health outlining the critical roles everyone can play to improve maternal health.
Approximately 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy-related complications. In addition, every year more than 25,000 women suffer unintended outcomes of labor and delivery that can result in significant short- or long-term consequences to their health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two out of three pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.
“Maternal mortality should be a ‘never’ event,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “We now have laid out a plan for all Americans to work together to cut maternal deaths dramatically and improve the long-term health of mothers and their children.”
“The health of our nation depends on the health of our mothers, and making the U.S. the safest place in the world to give birth is one of my top priorities,” said Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams, Surgeon General. “A mother or mother-to-be dies every 12 hours in the U.S. These tragedies are unacceptable. We cannot truly improve maternal health — until we acknowledge and address the disparate outcomes many women of color face.”
HHS Action Plan
In the newly released Action Plan, HHS provides a roadmap for addressing risk factors before and during pregnancy, improving the quality of and access to maternity and postpartum care, and supporting a research agenda to fill gaps in current evidence. The Action Plan outlines three specific targets to improve the nation’s maternal health outcomes by 2025:
- Reduce the maternal mortality rate by 50%
- Reduce low-risk cesarean deliveries by 25%
- Achieve blood pressure control in 80% of women of reproductive age with hypertension
HHS recognizes the U.S. maternal mortality rate requires immediate action. This is why work supporting the stated goals of the HHS Action Plan is already underway. The Action Plan commits HHS to investing in workforce development, such as funds for health care providers serving the most vulnerable women, efforts to strengthen rural maternal care delivery, and scholarships to educate midwives. HHS will also enhance maternal health infrastructure and capacity by expanding hospital participation in the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health’s patient safety bundles, as well as, develop and publicly report maternal health quality measures. The Action Plan also spotlights new HHS investments in maternal health research and data collection through partnerships among state maternal health task forces, perinatal quality collaboratives, and maternal mortality review committees.
Surgeon General’s Call to Action
The Call to Action examines the current state of maternal mortality and morbidity, including the stark racial and ethnic, geographic, and age disparities across America. Maternal health — especially maternal morbidity and mortality — cannot be addressed without addressing and acknowledging the disparate outcomes many women of color face. Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications than white, Hispanic and Asian Pacific Islander women.
Recognizing urgent maternal warning signs and getting an accurate and timely diagnosis can save lives during pregnancy and up to a year after delivery. The Call to Action provides a list of strategies and specific actions to optimize women’s health. The opportunity for action exists across the spectrum of women and families; states, tribes, and local communities; healthcare professionals; healthcare systems, hospitals and birthing facilities; payors; employers; innovators; and researchers.
HHS is announcing a public-private partnership with the March of Dimes to address the disparity gap in maternal health outcomes for black women through the implementation of evidence-based best practices to improve healthcare quality in hospital settings. This work, in turn, can help the nation invest in and elevate promising models for in-hospital maternity care that improve health outcomes for all women and reduce disparities in maternal health.
Recently Released HHS Maternal Health Activities
This week, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality announced the winners of its Cross-Sectional Innovation to Improve Rural Postpartum Mental Health Challenge.
In October 2020, the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) announced two prize competitions to improve maternal health. The first competition addresses care for women with hypertension who are pregnant and/or postpartum, while the second competition addresses breastfeeding initiation and continuation disparities among breastfeeding mothers. In addition, OWH announced a contract with Premier, Inc. to improve maternal health data and create a network of at least 200 hospitals to deploy clinical, evidence-based best practices in maternity care.
In September, CDC launched a digital Hear Her campaign to raise awareness of potentially life-threatening warning signs during and after pregnancy to prevent complications from developing or worsening. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion also launched an updated Move Your Way Activity Planner with new filters for women who are pregnant and postpartum to track activities and get tips.
“Protecting mothers is a national priority. These new initiatives will help us to support the long-term health of mothers and babies and ensure the U.S. is one of the safest countries in the world for women to give birth,” said HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Women’s Health and Director of the Office on Women’s Health, Dorothy Fink.
To learn more about the HHS Initiative to Improve Maternal Health, visit: https://aspe.hhs.gov/initiative-to-improve-maternal-health.
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