As maternal mortality rates rise in Virginia, health officials launch interviews into deaths

Preliminary data show Virginia’s maternal mortality rate more than doubled between 2018 and 2020.
Preliminary data show Virginia’s maternal mortality rate more than doubled between 2018 and 2020.(Virginia Mercury)
Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 8:31 AM EDT
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Preliminary data show Virginia’s maternal mortality rate more than doubled between 2018 and 2020, a sharp increase encouraging state officials to start doing ground-level interviews to figure out what’s driving pregnancy-related deaths.

According to early numbers from Virginia’s Maternal Mortality Review Team, the state’s maternal mortality rate in 2018 was 37.1 deaths per 100,000 cases. In 2020, that figure rose to 86.6 deaths per 100,000 cases, said Dr. Ryan Diduk-Smith, director of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Division of Death Prevention.

Not all of those deaths are necessarily due to a problem with pregnancy since the review team looks at every death that occurs within 365 days of pregnancy. But the jump indicates a sharp upward trend in maternal mortality that can also be seen in federal data.

While Diduk-Smith said researchers have “no clue” yet why the rate rose so sharply in 2020, Shannon Pursell, director of operations for the Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative, said increases in intimate partner violence and the isolation posed by the COVID-19 pandemic could have contributed to the jump. However, both emphasized the data are preliminary, and until the review team has a chance to investigate each case, no final conclusions can be drawn.

Currently, Virginia’s Maternal Mortality Review Team reviews maternal deaths using data such as which providers a patient saw, when appointments were made or canceled and patient information like height, weight, and preexisting conditions.

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NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news...
NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy.(Virginia Mercury)