AUSTIN (KXAN) — When the latest Department of State Health Services report detailing continued dangers and disparities for pregnant women landed on Rep. Shawn Thierry’s desk, she was disheartened but not surprised. She had lived through that data firsthand.
“I nearly lost my life in childbirth from receiving a high block epidural, and I had to yell out to put me under anesthesia,” she recalled.
Heading into her fourth legislative session, the Democrat from Houston is holding that experience close to her heart as she charts her priorities.
The 2022 Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and Department of State Health Services Joint Biennial Report was released Thursday night, and despite being more than a month and a half overdue, it depicted bad news for the state of Texas health care.
The most recent data available is from 2019, but it reports that 147 Texas women died in connection to pregnancy, leaving nearly 300 children without their mothers. Of those deaths, Black women were affected at twice the rate. The report explicitly cited discrimination as a leading cause of death in 12% of the cases.
“I would go as far to say racism,” said Nakeenya Wilson, a member of the Maternal Health Equity Collaborative and a community advocate on the state review committee. “The way that we build our systems don’t serve everybody the same.”
Those concerns over both timely data collection and racial disparities are the basis for some legislation Rep. Thierry has already filed.
I’m going to be filing what I call a “momnibus” bill,” she said. “We have to tackle this from all fronts.”
Among her requests are a study “to address the issue of why these disparities exist for pregnant Black women,” a cultural competency and implicit bias requirement for healthcare providers, and an extension of state postpartum Medicaid coverage from six months after birth to twelve months.
Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) expressed enthusiastic support for that measure.
“The Texas House will continue its work to further improve care for mothers and families in our state,” he said in a statement to KXAN News Friday. “A top priority for the chamber will be extending critical postpartum coverage for new Texas moms to 12 months. I look forward to my colleagues working with the Senate to get this much needed legislation over the finish line.”
The Texas House passed that same measure in 2021, but it stalled in the Senate.
“I want to make sure that this if there’s any way to prevent this, that we do all that we can, and the data and the report tells us that many of these deaths were preventable,” Rep. Thierry said. “I have an obligation to do this work, because I survived.”