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Suicide, Substance Use, and Homicide: Leading Causes of Maternal Death

Research Faculty

Suicide, Substance Use, and Homicide: Leading Causes of Maternal Death

Author Dana Brandorff | Publish Date November 30, 2020

Two CU Nursing faculty – Jessica Anderson and Brie Thumm – are members of the Colorado Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which was put into statute in May 2019 through the Maternal Mortality Prevention Act. The committee’s goals are to review causes of maternal deaths in Colorado and recommend ways to prevent such deaths in the future.

The committee recently issued its 2014-2016 Morbidity and Mortality report, analyzing causes of maternal deaths during and up to one year after pregnancy.  With more than 200,000 babies born in Colorado during that time and 94 pregnancy-associated deaths of pregnant and postpartum people, the top causes of death (in order) were suicide, accidental drug overdose, injury, and homicide.

The rate of homicide was more than twice that of non-pregnant people of reproductive age. People of Native American descent were nearly 5 times more likely to die than non-Native American people who gave birth during the same time period. Education level was significantly inversely related to maternal mortality rate and people who were insured through Medicaid had a higher mortality rate than all other forms of insurance.

“The findings presented in this report illustrate how structural inequities, specifically structural racism, impact health outcomes. Maternal mortality is considered a bellwether metric for a region’s health status and these numbers are telling us that in Colorado we must address the systematic discrimination that leads to marginalized communities dying at higher rates.” said Thumm, PhD, CNM, RN, MAB, an author of the report and the maternal health clinical consultant at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

According to the report, the majority of the top causes of death are preventable. “It is important to remember that behind these numbers are the lives and the families and communities of the people who died-- who we care for as nurses. Nurses have the opportunity to improve maternal outcomes through evidence-based screening, expanding our scope of practice to provide mental and behavioral health services, regardless of our specialty, and, most important, working to change the inequities inherent in the U.S. healthcare system and our own biases.” said Dr. Thumm.