With nearly 24,000 stillbirths throughout the United States each year, countless New Jersey families have been affected by this tragic pregnancy outcome. The full Legislature unanimously passed a bill on Thursday that aims to improve health care procedures and training, enhance reporting, and provide education and support to members of the public regarding stillbirths.
The measure (A-5008/S-2078) would require the Commissioner of Health to establish a ‘Stillbirth Resource Center’ to serve in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH) as an advisory center.
The DOH would work with this center to create a program that studies risk factors/causes associated with stillbirths, provides support to grieving families via a helpline, and provides relevant education on the prevention of stillbirths and the provision of care to families during/after a stillbirth. The educational program would target people who directly interact with families – such as midwives, health care professionals and social workers.
Stillbirths take place when a fetus is unintentionally lost after 20 completed weeks of pregnancy. They are one of the most common adverse pregnancy outcomes and can be caused by factors such as genetics, environment, stress and more. Unfortunately, racial disparities exist – with African American residents in New Jersey experiencing much higher rates of stillbirths than their white peers.
The center would also develop a voluntary reporting process to allow families to report cases of stillbirth. The center would keep a record of all stillbirth reports so that it can offer bereavement support services to families, conduct research on the effects of stillbirths on families, and make suggestions regarding policies/procedures to help improve support for families experiencing a stillbirth.
A Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Committee would also be established under the legislation. The purpose of the committee, created within the DOH, would be to review and report on fetal and infant death rates and causes each year, then provide recommendations to improve maternal care and reduce fetal/infant deaths.
Upon the bill’s passage, Assembly sponsors Pamela Lampitt (D-Burlington, Camden), Daniel Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) issued the following joint statement:
“It is always a tragedy when a family loses a baby they were looking forward to bringing into this world. Any way we can help prevent these traumatic losses must be pursued to ensure more of our residents have positive pregnancy outcomes.
“Whenever a stillbirth ultimately cannot be prevented, health care providers and other relevant professionals must have the proper training and procedures to help provide care to parents in the aftermath of their loss. Every family deserves to be treated with dignity and sensitivity in their time of mourning.
“A resource center dedicated to studying, collecting data, offering support and education, and providing relevant training on stillbirths will help make a difference in the lives of countless families throughout our state.”
The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.