Senate passes maternal death study proposal

The Georgia Senate passed a bill Tuesday to create a new health panel to study maternal deaths in Georgia — and keep much of the work shielded from the public.

Senate Bill 273 seeks to establish a Maternal Mortality Review Committee through the Department of Public Health.

Although Georgia currently has the highest rate of all states in the deaths of women during pregnancy or childbirth, the number is believed to be underreported. According to the bill, which is sponsored by state Sen. Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge, who is also a doctor, the state doesn’t have a comprehensive way to investigate or collect information on the issue.

While federal law protects patient privacy, the bill mandates that all proceedings and activities of the committee as a whole be exempted from Georgia’s open records and open meetings laws. Burke said some doctors would be afraid of participating for fear of lawsuits if privacy wasn’t assured in the process.

Only general reports would be made public.

The measure passed on a 51-1 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.