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Report: Arizona's maternal mortality rate is up, especially among Black, Native American moms

recent report from the state health department shows a notable uptick in maternal mortality in Arizona.

The report analyzes deaths from 2018 and 2019. It shows about 26 pregnancy-related deaths for every 100,000 births in Arizona in those years. That's a 43% increase from the rate seen in 2016 and 2017. 

Black and Native American Arizonans died from pregnancy-related causes at disproportionate rates. Maternal mortality was also more common among mothers enrolled in Arizona’s Medicaid system, who represented 49% percent of births in the state, but 72% of pregnancy-associated deaths.

About a third of the pregnancy-related deaths analyzed happened 43 days to one year after a birth. And perinatal mental health conditions were the most common underlying cause of death.

"It's usually accompanied by substance use disorder as a compounding factor," said Elizabeth Wood, board chairperson of the Arizona Chapter of the nonprofit Postpartum Support International. "Folks are choosing to self-medicate because of the mental anguish or the pain that they are in, and that is contributing significantly to deaths in that time frame."

Wood said the report shows a need for improved mental health screenings for pregnant or postpartum patients.

“The folks that are charged with doing the screening in the medical system do not feel adequately trained, prepared, nor do they really have time to be able to sit down and have a conversation," Wood said.

The data in the report only goes through 2019, but Wood said trends have likely continued in the wrong direction in the years since. She notes the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the federal right to abortion, both likely had adverse impacts on pregnant Arizonans and their ability to access health care.

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.