On days I’m home in South Dakota, I sit down for my morning bowl of Wheaties and flip through our local papers. This week, as I ate my bowl of cereal, I came across a well-researched and well-written article. The title was: “Effort begins to reduce risk of death of South Dakota mothers during childbirth.” It was written by local reporter Nick Lowrey from South Dakota News Watch and placed in many papers throughout the state.
It struck me for two reasons – one, it’s shocking because even as one of the most developed nations in the world, our mothers are dying during childbirth at the highest rate, and two, because the very next day I would be attending a congressional committee hearing on the same topic.
It’s important I go prepared to these hearings and the Education and Labor Committee does a fantastic job sending memos to ensure everyone is up to speed. The information is always helpful, but it’s not typically South Dakota specific. That’s where Nick’s article came in – because of his reporting I walked into that hearing knowing 60% of maternal deaths are preventable, that maternal “pregnancy-associated” deaths in South Dakota averaged 7.2 per year between 2010 and 2018, and nine South Dakota mothers died within a year of giving birth in 2018 alone.
To be frank, these are terrible statistics and hard to read. When I attended the Education and Labor hearing on maternal health, I was able to include Nick’s article in the Congressional Record for the rest of the committee and our entire nation to reference. There are several reasons the U.S. has seen an increase in maternal deaths – higher rates of obesity and diabetes, as well as giving birth at older ages have all played a role. According to Nick’s research, South Dakota does not keep data on severe pregnancy complications. During this week’s hearing, the witnesses expressed continuous concerns over the lack of information on maternal complications.
We can’t solve a problem if we can’t understand it.
There are new protocols being put into place, though, and hospitals like Sanford are working on their own set of practices to improve the safety of mothers. There is much work to be done across the U.S. and it may take years, but I’m glad organizations throughout the country and Congress are working to tackle this issue.
Investigative reporting plays a crucial role in exposing flaws in our many systems – and in this case, articles like Nick’s may help save lives. We’re living in a time where click-bait articles are taking over our news feeds – but I’m grateful South Dakota’s journalists are focused on news that matters.