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Most Texas pregnancy deaths preventable


A long-awaited state report concludes most pregnancy-related deaths in Texas in 2019 were preventable and disproportionately affected Black women. 

The report, issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Committee, indicated deaths were mainly attributable to hemorrhage, mental health conditions, and blood clots. Also playing a role were discrimination and violence, according to a Dallas Morning News  analysis of the report.

DSHS issued the report after months of delay, which drew criticism from members of the committee and maternal health advocates, as well as Democratic lawmakers.

Fourteen women died during pregnancy over the study period, while another 45 died up to a year after giving birth. The Legislature in the coming session is again likely to consider extending post-partum Medicaid assistance from six months to one year, the News reported.

The “consistence of maternal health disparities” was noted by the committee as a key theme that runs through the report. Black women are twice as likely to experience serious health issues during childbirth.

“The report makes clear that state leaders must do more to prevent maternal deaths and support healthy pregnancies among Texas women of all backgrounds, regardless but particularly among Black women,” said Diana Forester, Director of Health Policy for the advocacy group Texans Care for Children.


Tornadoes cause millions in timber damage

A series of tornadoes throughout northeast Texas in November damaged timber on 13,000 acres, causing an estimated $10 million in damages, according to a survey by the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Storms that swept across that area on Nov. 4 resulted in seven tornadoes, five of which affected timberland in Bowie, Cass, Henderson, Morris, and Red River counties, according to the forest service. A storm in Morris County resulted in one death.

Damaged trees were uprooted, snapped off below the crown, or left leaning significantly. Most of the damage to timber was on private property, according to the report.

 “We’ve developed protocols for rapidly assessing timber damage following major disasters that have become a model for similar efforts across the South,” said Dr. Aaron Stottlemyer of the forest service. “Our agency performance this work as a service to the people of Texas.”


Drought having considerable economic impact

The state’s ongoing drought has cost the Texas economy nearly $7.62 billion in direct agricultural losses, according to the Texas Water Development Board. With very little rainfall during the planting season, this year’s drought could have a similar effect next year on West Texas farmers and ranchers, who sustained serious losses in 2022. That’s according to a recent report from the state comptroller’s office.

Currently about 15% of the state is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions, while nearly 90% of the state still is abnormally dry, the report said. 

“The state continues to work on improved management of its water resources as it continues to experience rapid growth in the urban areas, which potentially can compete with agricultural interests for a finite resource,” the report said.

“Whether in times of drought or flood, responsible water management ensures Texans see water as a resource — not a crisis. Texans around the state are employing innovative strategies to turn our water challenges into opportunities,” said  Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. 

A welcome piece of news is that November was wetter than usual across much of the state.

Storage of the state’s water supply reservoirs is at 70% of capacity, 11 percentage points below normal for this time of year. Despite the bit of relief Texas experienced in November, drought conditions are expected to expand over the next few months, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board.

Wentzel wrote that La Niña conditions, which are largely responsible for the current drought, are expected to dissipate by spring, which may bring much-needed relief to drought-affected areas.


‘Seizing the moment’ in higher ed

Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller has called on leaders in higher education, industry, philanthropy, and government to “seize the moment” to meet three challenges facing Texas higher education today. Those areas are educational attainment, workforce education, and research and development.

Speaking to nearly 300 attending this year’s Texas Higher Education Leadership Conference, Harrison said the foundation is in place because of added funding after the pandemic radically changed how higher education met the needs of its students.

“The heart of the matter is that expectations for higher education have changed, faster than anyone expected,” said Commissioner Keller. “Now, there is a significant disconnect between the scale of our needs in each of these areas versus what our higher education institutions and policies were designed to do.”


West Texas quake prompts RRC response

Another 5.4 magnitude earthquake, this time about a dozen miles north of Midland, prompted the Texas Railroad Commission to send inspectors to the area on Friday evening to “protect public safety and the environment.” RRC inspectors are examining disposal activity at injection wells near the site of the earthquake.

This comes after a similar-sized temblor was reported in Reeves County, near Pecos. That quake spurred the commission to implement several revisions designed to reduce the occurrence of such events, generally believed to be caused by water injected into disposal wells during oil and gas operations.

The goal, according to the RRC, is to “address the intensity and frequency of earthquakes in the area.”

The West Texas area that will come under the restrictions has been expanded northward to the New Mexico border. There are 78 active disposal wells in that area, according to the RRC. 


New COVID-19 cases rise slightly

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Texas during the past week inched up to 29,557, with 84 deaths reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 2,181 lab-confirmed hospitalizations across the state as of Sunday, also a slight increase.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.


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