Maternal mortality, elder care issues addressed at first State of Women’s Health forum

    Affordability of care and access to mental health services were at the top of the list of issues discussed at the first annual State of Women’s Health forum this week at the Union League in Philadelphia. 

    Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine also addressed concerns about poor health outcomes for women in the city, including the high number of women who die from complications in childbirth.

    In her keynote address Levine cited a report from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health Medical Examiners Office. Between 2010 and 2012, it found maternal mortality in Philadelphia was 50 percent higher than the national average.

    She also noted that many of these new mothers died of cardiovascular complications.

    “Women when they’re pregnant, if they have significant hypertension, it puts them at risk for maternal complications as well as complications with the baby,” said Levine. “The same with uncontrolled diabetes. Obesity can cause complications in terms of delivery.”

    According to the report, socioeconomic factors, such as access to healthy food and prenatal care also played a role. Levine says she plans to organize a review committee that would investigate maternal mortality rates across the state.

    The panel of Philly health experts also spoke about gender differences in healthcare and barriers to access for women.

    Lois Evans, professor emeritus of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, says that physicians fail to address a number of issues that specifically affect older women.

    “The most thing that older women especially are getting dependent on are benzodiazepines and things that they’ve been given for sleep. They may have been given them in mid life but they became dependent on them and so they bring that into late life,” said Evans. “And older people should never be taking those drugs because they have so many side effects for older people,” she said.

    Evans adds that 75 percent of women age 75 or older are living alone. She says many suffer from undiagnosed depression.

    An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect statistic concerning Pennsylvania’s rate of maternal mortality.

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