City Hall: City Council Week in Review for Oct. 14-18, 2019

City Council’s public health committee held a hearing concerning maternal mortality with possible legislation being introduced before the end of the year. 

The Committee on Public Health and Human Services met Oct. 15, 2019, to hear testimony on resolution 190040, calling for hearings regarding the increase in maternal mortality among African American women in the city. Statistically, Philadelphia’s rate is worse than some underdeveloped nations.

Rep. Morgan Cephas testified that the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

“The U.S. loses approximately 22 women per 100,000 live births,” Cephas said. “Whereas neighboring Canada has a rate of seven per 100,000.”

Cephas said the maternal mortality rate for black women in the U.S. is three times higher than their white counterparts.

“The Centers for Disease Control reports that 31% of the deaths occur during pregnancy,” Cephas said. “Sixteen percent occur during the day of delivery and a majority happen during the postpartum period, representing 51% of the deaths.”

Cephas has partnered with the Philadelphia Women’s Commission to hold a series of panel discussions to hear testimony from medical professionals and advocates. Cephas said these efforts have lead to millions of dollars in grants, including a grant from the CDC dedicated to the Pennsylvania Maternal Mortality Review Committee. 

Councilmember Cindy Bass shared her own frightening experience with preeclampsia, a condition that can develop in pregnant women and cause serious issues such as stroke, seizure, and heart failure.

“The moment that I realized that this is something … like I might not be here,” Bass said. ”I just gave birth to a baby and I might not be here to care for that child. And how incredibly frightening.”

Dr. Wadia Mulla, from the Temple University Hospital Department of Obstetrics and Maternal Fetal Medicine, said there were no well-defined risks to account for increased rates of maternal mortality among African American women, but said a possible explanation could be elevated stress levels African American women face due to economic conditions and adverse childhood experiences.

“As a result of childhood trauma, mistrust of traditional medical services, and lack of child care transportation, many barriers exist to maternal health care and education in Philadelphia,” Mulla said.

Dr. Aasta Mehta, from the Philadelphia Department of Health, testified that from 2010-2018, black women have accounted for 75% of Philadelphia’s pregnancy related deaths.

“Forty percent of all reviewed deaths had a diagnosis of mental health history, and 60% have had a previous and/or current substance use disorder overdose related deaths,” Mehta said.

Bass stated that women are very quick to put everyone else’s health and needs before their own, sometimes ignoring what seem to be minor aches and pains.

“It makes me think of when you get on an airplane and they tell you that in the case of an emergency,” Bass said. “You put your oxygen mask on first and then take care of your child on the person with you. Because if you are incapacitated, you can’t care for them.”

Bass is hopeful for positive and substantive outcomes from the hearing that will lead to legislation, possibly by the end of the year.

Rules Committee

The City Council Rules Committee approved two Business Improvement District (BID) bill proposals, despite vocal community objection.

BIDs are areas where business owners can collectively establish a compulsory revenue source from businesses within the district for services such as street cleaning, security personnel, and landscaping.

The proposed districts are in the Fishtown-Kensington and Italian Market areas of the city.

The chief objection to designating the BID was the proposed maintenance fee, which many business owners and residents likened to a property tax hike.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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