GPB's Ellen Eldridge hears from Rose Horton, a nurse at the Emory Decatur Hospital in DeKalb County, who has been appointed to the Biden administration’s Black Maternal Health Stakeholder Group.

Rose Horton sits at a desk and looks at a computer screen

Rose L. Horton, executive director of Women and Infant Services at Emory Decatur Hospital, will help guide the Biden adminstration’s efforts to combat maternal mortality in the Black community as part of a new national stakeholder group.

Credit: Emory University

A Georgia nurse has been named to a Biden administration panel looking at the issue of Black maternal mortality. 

The state has consistently ranked near the bottom, if not last, in maternal mortality, with the rest of the South not far behind.

In the United States, statistics show, Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

RELATED: 'Legacy Of Racism’ Leads Georgia To Fail Repeatedly On Premature Birth Rate

Rose Horton knows the issue from her work as a nurse at the Emory Decatur Hospital in DeKalb County.

She said the Black Maternal Health Stakeholder Group is a 36-member partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the March of Dimes.

"It's a beautiful, diverse group of folks who work with the birthing community," Horton said. "So we have birth workers, we have doulas, we have midwives, we have physicians, legislators."

They also hear from patients about their birthing experiences, she said.

The group first met virtually earlier this year and plans to meet again in October.

Horton said the March meeting focused on the many layers associated with maternal morbidity and mortality, and then, more specifically, on determining the group's desired goal.

"There's an opportunity to look at care in the hospital and look at our C-section rates," Horton said. "(To) see what opportunities we have to decrease the caesarean section rate."

Another of the group’s goals is to advance equity in maternal health.

Horton said at least 79 of Georgia's 159 counties do not have an obstetrician available.

Back in 2018, March of Dimes President Stacey Stewart said that number was 58 counties, which suggests the problem of health care deserts is getting worse.

"If women and birthing people don't have access to health care, that poses a significant problem for them," Horton said. "If you have to drive 40 to 50 minutes to see a provider, that's dangerous."

Northridge Medical Center, a nonprofit 90-bed hospital in Commerce, and Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Randolph County closed last October.

“It has become increasingly difficult for small, critical-access hospitals to survive in rural areas across the country and here in Georgia,’’ Southwest Georgia Regional CEO Kim Gilman said in a news release.

Stewart said about 700 women died in 2017 as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, and another 50,000 women almost died.

"About 60% of all the cases of maternal mortality, meaning women that die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, are avoidable," Stewart said. "If women had access to the care they need when they needed it, we probably could save those lives."

Legislation passed in Georgia last year extends Medicaid coverage for women from two to six months after giving birth.

RELATED: Lack Of Affordable, Accessible Health Care Puts Georgians At Risk

Going forward, lawmakers are already pushing to get 12 months of Medicaid coverage for mothers who have given birth, which is considered the standard for care, Georgia state Rep. Renitta Shannon said.

A pregnant woman stands holding her belly in front of a window.

In the United States, statistics show, Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

Credit: Photo by Mustafa Omar / Unsplash

"I knew that Black women were unnecessarily dying while trying to give birth at rates far higher than their white counterparts partly because of a lack of access to health care," Shannon said in a written statement. "I want to personally thank Black and brown women of the reproductive justice community for growing national awareness about the epidemic of maternal mortality and I am happy to see Georgia taking steps to resolve this crisis."

Another opportunity Horton sees with the Black Maternal Health Stakeholder Group is to change the narrative around pregnancy, labor and birth.

"We have an opportunity to really amplify the voices of our patients, our clients, our birthing people," she said. "What do they want their birth experience to look like?"

Additionally, allowing patients to be an active part of the decision-making process will help empower them, she said.

"We call it shared decision making — trusting that, again, our patients know best," Horton said. "They know their bodies best."

All of this will help change outcomes on a local level, Horton said, as well as help guide national leaders in making decisions to improve the country's maternal morbidity rates.

"We can definitely improve outcomes and care in the state of Georgia," Horton said. "We deserve better than our failing grade. We can be an A-class provider."

The group’s findings will be shared with the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the March of Dimes.