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Millions of American moms face maternity care deserts

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Posted at 5:00 PM, Jun 23, 2023

PAHRUMP, Nev. — Jahna Jackson is in her third trimester of pregnancy. When the time comes to welcome her daughter, she’ll drive an hour to Las Vegas from her home in Pahrump, Nevada, because there are no obstetricians in the city.

“When you have issues and you’re not feeling well, like I haven’t been for the past couple of weeks, you’ve got to call and try and come in. But that part, you don’t have anyone out there who can really take care of you,” Jackson said.

According to a report, more than 200 rural hospitals have closed their obstetrics units. Now, more than a third of America’s counties qualify as maternity care deserts, meaning there are no birth centers, no OB-GYNs and no certified nurse midwives.

Jennifer Vanderlaan, assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, we got here partly because maternity wards in smaller areas often lose money.

“I think of Montana, which is huge," Vanderlaan said. "I think of Alaska, which has such a huge problem that women will actually be asked to fly into a city weeks before they are due to give birth to make sure that they have care when they go into labor."

In Pahrump, no one needs to fly. It’s a town of 3,000, where people can get food, buy a phone and even rent a tux. But there’s nowhere to give birth.

“Rural women have to either plan ahead and have an induction of labor to make sure that they're at the hospital or go with the first sign of contractions frequently,” Vanderlaan said. “Very often you have other children at home, so you need to contact your mother or your sister or your friend to come and take care of those children. And you have to call your ride. And that all takes longer when everything is further away.”

Where problems are pointed out, solutions are often suggested. Some in the field demand that private insurance offer fuller coverage. The March of Dimes has also rolled out mobile health units.

Vanderlaan suggests more effective use of midwives.

“Every woman and baby deserve to have a good chance at a healthy pregnancy," she said.