Access to quality maternal care is critical for both mothers and babies, but what happens when the closest maternal health center isn’t actually close?
That’s become reality for a growing number of American women. According to the latest data, maternity deserts in the US have increased by 5% since 2020–and Wisconsin is no exception. In the last decade, eleven rural hospitals have stopped delivering babies, according to the most recent report by the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health.
What Is a “Maternity Desert”?
A maternity care desert is a county that has no hospitals that provide obstetric care, no birth centers, no OB/GYNs, and no certified midwives.
How Many Are There?
Across the country–more than 1,000. More than 2.2 million women of childbearing age live in one, according to the March of Dimes. Wisconsin has 15.
Why Is This Happening?
Rising costs and staffing shortages are forcing many hospitals to close their labor and delivery wards, according to a report from The New York Times.
Should I Be Worried?
Yes, unless something changes. In 2020, 900 women died from pregnancy complications–a 14-percent increase from the year before and 30-percent more than 2018. The number of women who experience pregnancy-related complications is also up–affecting 50,000 every year.
Women living in a maternity desert are even more likely to have asthma, hypertension, or smoke tobacco, compared to women in counties with full access to maternity care. Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are at an even greater risk, according to the CDC.
What’s the Fix?
There are a number of ways the government can help:
- Expand Medicaid for people who are at or below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
- Raise parental income eligibility levels under Medicaid.
- Extend the Medicaid postpartum coverage period to 12 months.
- Expand equitable access to doula services.
- Provide coverage for telehealth maternal health services.
But government action is rarely quick, so there are also a few things you can do:
- Donate to the March of Dimes, a national non-profit that supports mothers and their babies.
- Reach out to new moms or mothers-to-be that you know and ask how you can support them during and after their pregnancy.
- Support the Hear Her Campaign, an organization that raises awareness for urgent maternal warning signs and helps improve communication between patients and their healthcare providers.
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