The existence of maternity deserts has grown at an alarming rate. How do we close this maternal health gap for a better tomorrow?
by Dr. Cynthia Roland and Ashley Guidry, Communications Associate
According to the March of Dimes, two million individuals across the country live in areas without access to birthing facilities. “I believe this is the importance of the care that Legacy provides,” says Legacy’s Clinical OB/GYN Medical Director, Cynthia Roland. “We service much of the surrounding areas that would be labeled maternity deserts.”
Maternity deserts are counties with limited access to preventive, prenatal and postpartum care services. What constitutes a maternity desert are counties with one or fewer health facilities that provide obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) care or have a high percentage of women without health insurance. Last year, data revealed that 36% of counties nationwide in the South and Midwest are considered maternity deserts.
Compared to 1.0% of pregnant women in the U.S. as a whole, 4.6% of pregnant women in Texas lacked access to a birthing facility within 30 minutes of their homes. This great distance largely affects individuals of color who live in these rural areas. One in four Native American babies and one in six Black babies were born in areas with limited access to maternity care services. This lack of prenatal care for mothers and babies in maternity deserts face a higher risk of poor health outcomes, including death.
There are many factors that contribute to the rise of maternity deserts in Texas. East Texas alone has poorer health outcomes than most of the state. Since the existence of COVID-19, many rural health facilities in the region have struggled to recover. A third of pregnant women don’t see a doctor until at least the second trimester.
Legacy Community Health has 18 locations, three of which are in Southeast Texas, that are taking preventative measures to improve maternal health. “We bridge the gap and provide quality care to areas that are not currently supported by local resources,” Dr. Roland states. “Then we collaborate with hospitals in the area to provide a seamless transition to delivery for our patients and their babies.”
Legacy also takes part in Title X service grants to provide individuals with low-cost reproductive health care services. Title X is a federally funded, family planning program designed to improve maternal health care access in Texas.
Health care clinicians like Dr. Roland, are exploring other outlets to address the issue. “Telemedicine has been a useful tool when it comes to providing counseling for high-risk issues by maternal-fetal medicine specialists for patients that have barriers to travel,” says Dr. Roland. “In some locations, remote imaging facilities exist where patients can be counseled in real-time after their ultrasound appointment by top-notch specialists, allowing the patients to remain closer to home.”
Finding more solutions to provide quality care is challenging, but Legacy alongside other health care clinicians is working tirelessly to assist these underserved communities. Through innovative approaches like telemedicine, we hope to see maternity deserts become less prevalent in the Lone Star State.