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Idaho is 1 of 7 states without a maternal death review panel. This plan would change that

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Melanie Darnell's husband was traveling for work, her 10-month-old wasn't sleeping through the night and her 2-year-old had an ear infection. She wanted to know how much sleep she was actually getting so she duct taped a Nest Cam to the ceiling.

A proposal by the Idaho Medical Association would establish a review panel to track maternal deaths in Idaho.

Idaho’s maternal death rate of 27.1 deaths per 100,000 births is higher than the United States rate of 26.4, said Susie Pouliot, CEO of the Idaho Medical Association. That U.S. rate is also more than twice as high as most European countries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Idaho is one of seven states without a maternal mortality review panel, and, as of December, it was one of just two states without a plan to implement one. A 2008 legislative effort to establish one didn’t go anywhere, though Idaho does track maternal deaths.

Currently, Idaho death certificates have a checkbox to indicate the pregnancy status of women who have died between the ages of 10 to 54 years, said Niki Forbing-Orr in a December email to Idaho Reports. Forbing-Orr is the spokeswoman for Idaho Health and Welfare.

The checkboxes are: Not pregnant within the past year; pregnant at the time of death; not pregnant, but pregnant within 42 days of death; and not pregnant, but pregnant 43 days to 1 year before death.

The death certificate doesn’t always indicate at what point during the pregnancy the woman’s death occurred.

According to Health and Welfare, between 2008 and 2017, there were 121 deaths to Idaho women who were reported as either pregnant or pregnant within one year before death. Of those, 70 were determined to be pregnancy-related, 34 were from accidents, 7 were from suicide, 7 were from homicide, 1 was undetermined, and 2 were from all other causes. Of the 34 accidental deaths, 10 were from drug overdoses.

There were also racial disparities, with American Indian women experiencing the highest maternal death rates in that time period.

Though Health and Welfare tracks maternal deaths, no entity exists to make recommendations to improve Idaho’s maternal death rate.

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Courtesy of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

The proposed panel would be funded by a four-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pouliot said, and would include physicians, a coroner, a labor and delivery nurse, and others. The panel would have the ability to look into deaths with records and make recommendations regarding medical care, but it would not have disciplinary powers.

On Monday, Pouliot presented a draft bill to the House Health and Welfare Committee that would establish the panel, but withdrew it at the end of the meeting to make some technical corrections to the legislation. Pouliot will reintroduce the corrected bill at a future meeting.

Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, supported the panel.

“(The death rates are) an embarrassment, and we need to find out why,” he said.

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