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Legislative Updates — May 24, 2019

LITTLE ROCK – The rate of maternal mortality in Arkansas is above the national average, so earlier this year the legislature created a review committee to develop new strategies for preventing women from dying during childbirth.

The state Health Department will set up the committee with members from various medical and public health disciplines.

The committee will analyze the details of all pregnancy-related deaths, including the circumstances when women die as long as a year after giving birth. Regardless of the stated cause of death, the committee will review all the relevant factors that may have contributed to the deaths.

Committee members will review medical records and contact family members and other people involved in the women’s deaths.

The committee will recommend ways to prevent maternal deaths, such as efforts by public health agencies and clinics to improve prenatal care.

Under Act 829 of 2019, health care providers, facilities and pharmacies shall provide access to medical records. The act specifies that they will not be liable in a lawsuit for making those medical records available.

The medical records that are provided to the committee shall not be admissible as evidence in court, or before a regulatory board. Committee members and Health Department staff who participate in gathering and analyzing medical records shall not disclose them.

The proceedings of the committee will be confidential, as will the records it gathers and the statements of people interviewed by the committee.

If the medical information is available from other sources and by other avenues, it can still be used in criminal and civil proceedings.

Each year the committee shall issue a report to the Senate and House Committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor and the Legislative Council. The Maternal Mortality Review Committee’s reports shall be in aggregate form, and will not include details that identify specific physicians or health care facilities.

Serious illness related to pregnancy is on the increase, perhaps due to lack of access to prenatal care and perhaps to increases in abuse of tobacco, drugs and alcohol.

In Arkansas, each year on average 35 women die during pregnancy or childbirth for every 100,000 live births. The national average is 20 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The main causes are bleeding, blood clots, heart problems and pre-existing chronic conditions. Public health experts estimate that half of the maternal deaths are preventable.

School Bus Safety

It’s illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped and has its red lights flashing, while children are getting off or boarding. But according to surveys by school bus drivers, it happens more than 800 times a day in Arkansas.

The state Education Department reported that 3,896 bus drivers in 227 Arkansas school districts reported 884 instances of being passed illegally on April 24. In 12 of those violations, vehicles passed the stopped bus on the right side, where children get on and off the bus.

More drivers participated this year than last year, when 3,258 drivers in 194 districts reported being passed illegally 857 times.

The legislature has approved Acts 166 of 2019 and Act 2128 of 2005 to strengthen penalties for passing a stopped school bus.


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