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South Jersey’s birthing mothers get help with avoiding complications | Opinion

Jennie Sherlock-Loeb and Kathleen Mahoney

Published: Nov. 16, 2022, 4:03 p.m.

By Jennie Sherlock-Loeb and Kathleen Mahoney

New Jersey has a distinction it would rather not have. The state has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.

Birthing individuals are dying as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. The most common causes of maternal mortality and morbidity are hypertension disorders in pregnancy, postpartum hemorrhage (heavy bleeding after giving birth) and maternal sepsis (infection).

In the most recent report from the New Jersey Department of Health’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, more than 90% of pregnancy-related deaths in New Jersey from 2016 through 2018 were deemed “preventable.” Of the 44 pregnancy-related deaths analyzed during that period, 22.7% were attributed to cardiovascular conditions, 18.2% to hemorrhage, 11.4% to stroke and 11.4% to hypertensive pregnancy disorders such as preeclampsia and eclampsia.

Sobered by these numbers and bound by our collective duty to advance maternal health and wellness, the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative created a training cohort of five obstetric nurses from birthing hospitals across South Jersey. The cooperative is New Jersey’s state-licensed maternal and child health consortium for Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

The nurses, all board certified in in-patient and high-risk obstetrics, are now certified as obstetric patient safety instructors after an intensive multi-day workshop developed by the cooperative’s partners, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN).

Under normal circumstances, becoming an obstetric patient safety instructor can be a daunting task. Nurses have to apply for instructor status, find an instructor-led course and pay for the coursework. It’s both challenging and lengthy. However, recognizing the urgency of the region’s maternal mortality and morbidity rate, the cooperative initiated and facilitated on-site training, free of charge to participating nurses. They completed the workshop in just one week.

This workshop was a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on simulation training. It was held virtually and in person at the cooperative’s Pennsauken offices. The course is designed to improve the nurses’ recognition, readiness and response to postpartum hemorrhage, hypertension disorders of pregnancy and maternal sepsis, and to report these issues.

Equipped with this knowledge, the nurses have returned to their respective hospitals where they will train their peers. That means five of South Jersey’s birthing hospitals are now staffed with highly-specialized nurse instructors who can offer obstetric patient safety training to colleagues at these sites.

Before this initiative, there were no obstetric patient safety instructors anywhere in the South Jersey region, and only two instructor-trainers in the entire state.

Our shared hope is that these highly-skilled nursed who underwent the training — and the staff members they will train — will bring positive, meaningful outcomes for South Jersey’s birthing individuals, ultimately saving lives.

Jennie Sherlock-Loeb of Medford Township is a board-certified inpatient obstetrics nurse and the director of clinical and professional education at the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative.

Kathleen Mahoney of Lavallette is a AWHONN-certified obstetrics patient safety instructor trainer, and a consultant.

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