ARKANSAS, USA — A report from the March of Dimes recently came out saying that 5% of counties nationwide have less maternity access than just two years ago.
A maternity care desert is a county that does not have a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care and without any obstetrician (OB) doctors providers.
More than 1,100 maternity care deserts across the country. In Arkansas, there are 35 counties that are considered maternity care deserts with Madison, Logan and Scott being the deserts in our area.
“We have a lot of work to do to make sure all women in the state of Arkansas, no matter where you are or who you are, have access to quality care in childbirth,” said Dr. Creshelle Nash.
Dr. Nash is the medical director for health equity and public programs at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield. She says looking at the report is alarming— as it should be— but there are people across the state working on these issues.
Forty-seven percent of the counties in the state are considered deserts but another 21% have low or moderate access to care.
“Unfortunately, on the last report we had 39 birthing hospitals, now we have 37… we lost two more, so we have to have a concerted effort across the board to address this issue,” she said.
In Madison County, there is no hospital or prenatal care, so expecting moms have to drive 28 miles to Springdale or Eureka Springs for care.
Dr. Jose Cordero is a spokesperson for March of Dimes. He says being this far from care means expectant moms are also probably not getting good prenatal care which is essential to the health of both the mother and child.
Cordero says our country is seeing an increase in severe maternal morbidity. “Meaning complications, but also our number of mothers that are dying in the course of pregnancy or up to a year after pregnancy is also increasing," Dr. Cordero said. "We are the worst of all developed countries."
Dr. Nash says Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield is part of a national push to decrease maternal morbidity and mortality by 50% in five years.
“We’re doing things like trying to identify high-risk moms before they are high risk… getting wrap-around services for them. Whether we’re talking about case management, social work, using technology,” Nash said.
Back in August, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a new DHS program called Maternal Life 360 Home that would make nearly 5,000 women eligible for home visitations and intensive care coordination services for high-risk pregnancies.
That program is still waiting for approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
RELATED: Arkansas ranks 3rd for pregnancy-related deaths, study shows Black mothers disproportionately impacted
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