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ADPH to offer autopsies in all maternal deaths

The Alabama Department of Public Health will begin this year offering autopsies statewide to the families of women whose deaths are related to childbirth. 

Maternal deaths are more frequent in Alabama than the rest of the nation, but currently only about 50% receive an autopsy.

“We want to find ways to prevent maternal deaths and so the autopsy program is just one part of that program,” Alabama Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told Alabama Daily News. “We also try to do a deep dive into the history and circumstances of the death just to understand what was going on, what led to a bad outcome.”

The Maternal Autopsy Program began in December 2023 in Baldwin, Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, Mobile, Montgomery, Shelby, and Walker counties. 

The ADPH this week announced the plans for expanded availability later this year. The autopsies will be performed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham or the University of South Alabama.

Autopsies are especially helpful in the deaths of young, presumably healthy women, Harris said. 

“We want to try to have some ability to get an understanding of that situation to see if we can prevent it in the future,” he said.

According to ADPH, 93 deaths were reviewed by the Alabama Maternal Mortality Review Committee in 2018 and 2019. The committee deemed 24 of those pregnancy-related. The leading causes were infections, cardiovascular issues and hemorrhages.

Fifteen of the 24 deaths were determined to be preventable, the committee said. 

Maternal deaths include those within a year of giving birth. Farther away from childbirth, those deaths may be related to other health issues. The ADPH would like more understanding of that, Harris said.

“If you think about a new mom, and she’s home with a baby and maybe she doesn’t have a lot of resources to support her and maybe it’s her first baby and she’s doing everything possible to take care of if, but you can imagine that maybe her own health is not the same priority for her. She’s maybe not having her blood pressure checked, she’s not monitoring her blood sugar.”

The Maternal Mortality Review Program was allocated $478,000 in both the 2024 and 2025 General Fund budgets.

A 2023 report said Alabama had the worst maternal mortality rate in the nation, 64.63 deaths per 100,000 births. That’s nearly double the national rate of 34.09. The rate is even higher for Black women in the state.  

Autopsies will be offered statewide, but a family can decline, Harris said.

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