BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – Maternal health care is disappearing in rural parts of the country, including here in Alabama, making it harder for people to get the care they need to give birth to healthy babies.
According to American Hospital Associationnearly half of rural hospitals across the US do not offer labor and delivery services, leaving expectant mothers in maternity care deserts.
“Our 34 or 55 rural counties, we don’t have delivery service.”
Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson, said there are several reasons why maternal health care is disappearing, especially in rural communities.
“You have difficulty recruiting doctors in rural areas, you have a huge financial challenge to deliver and liability has certainly been a problem as well. It’s not surprising that in significant portions of rural Alabama we don’t have delivery services in those counties,” explained Dr. Williamson.
It also takes a lot of money to run and maintain the labor and delivery units.
Rural communities have smaller populations so there are fewer births making the system unstable.
“The real challenge is for uninsured mothers, and I think it’s no surprise that individuals who are uninsured tend to get less prenatal care or get it later, and that contributes to an outcome, both for mothers and for babies, which is certainly less desirable. “, said Dr. Williamson.
According to the American Hospital Association, about 12 million women ages 15 to 54 live in rural areas, and more than 2.2 million of them live in maternity care deserts.
This means traveling long distances for birth and prenatal care—a trip many cannot afford.
“How do low-income women who don’t qualify for Medicaid, who are uninsured, how do they get health care, and very often they’re limited to no prenatal care, and often their first visit may be to the ER, and while they will receive high-quality care and delivery with their baby, the ER is not the first time you want to receive prenatal care,” Dr. Williamson said.
Dr. Williamson said Medicaid expansion is a potential solution to improving the overall health of women ages 19 to 64, as well as improving outcomes for expectant mothers in Alabama.
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