Maternal health care is disappearing in rural communities

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – Maternal health care is disappearing in rural parts of the country, including right here in Alabama, making it harder for people to get the care they need to deliver healthy babies .

According to American Hospital Associationnearly half of rural hospitals across the United States do not offer labor and delivery services, leaving pregnant women in the maternity care desert.

“34 or our 55 rural counties, we don’t have delivery services.”

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 significant financial challenge, and liability has certainly been an issue as well. It’s no surprise that in significant parts of rural Alabama, we don’t have delivery services in those counties,” Dr. Williamson explained.

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, which makes the system unsustainable.

“The real challenge is with uninsured mothers, and I think it’s no surprise that uninsured people tend to get less prenatal care or get it later, and that contributes to an outcome, both for mothers than for babies, which is certainly less desirable,” said Dr Williamson.

According to the American Hospital Association, about 12 million women between the ages of 15 and 54 live in rural areas, and more than 2.2 million of them live in maternity deserts.

This means traveling long distances for childbirth and antenatal care, a journey that many cannot afford.

“How do low-income women who are not eligible for Medicaid and who are uninsured, how do they get health care, and too often they are limited to no prenatal care, and often their first visit can be to emergencies, and while they will receive high-quality care and delivery with their child, emergencies are not the first time you want to seek prenatal care,” said Dr. Williamson.

Dr. Williamson said expanding Medicaid is a possible solution to improving the overall health of women ages 19 to 64, as well as improving outcomes for pregnant women in Alabama.

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