Monday, April 26, 2021

Study: Closing of rural hospital delivery rooms puts Black and indigenous moms and babies at far higher risk of death

"A new study from the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center has found that when rural hospitals close their obstetrics units, it puts Black and indigenous mothers at a far greater risk," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. "That’s because the hospitals that close their obstetrics units are more likely to be located in counties where the majority of residents are non-white or Hispanic," and they're more likely to be small and/or critical access hospitals. 

Fewer than half of rural counties in the U.S. have hospitals that deliver babies. Obstetrics, which has high malpractice-insurance costs, is among the first to be cut when hospitals tighten their belts. 

But pregnant people still need obstetric services even when the local hospital doesn't offer them. In rural hospitals with shuttered obstetrics units, almost half had the same number of births as most rural hospitals that still had the service, Carey reports.

"What we see are issues with systemic racism. And we see general, overall health is poor among BiPOC communities particularly black and Indigenous moms," study co-author Julia Interrante told Carey. "And I think you have this combination then when you have an obstetrics unit closing in those same areas that need potentially more care for patients. It’s a compounding problem."

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department will provide $12 million over the next four years for the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies program. "The grants will be used to test models that address unmet needs for rural Black moms," Carey reports. "For the first time, HHS said, applicants are required to focus on populations that have historically suffered from poorer health outcomes, health disparities and other inequities."

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