Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Rural women face dwindling access to hospital childbirth services; Connecticut woman's ordeal is an example

A rural Connecticut woman's recent ordeal highlights a recent study noting that rural women, especially in communities of color, often have more difficulty accessing hospital childbirth services.

Shantell Jones lives in Windham, a town of 25,000, 41 percent Latino. She lives six blocks from a hospital, but when she went into early labor the ambulance had to drive to another one 30 minutes away because Windham Hospital shuttered its labor and delivery services last year, Jean Lee reports for NBC News. Ten minutes into the drive, Jones gave birth in the ambulance as it parked by the side of the highway, and though she and her son are healthy, others are not so lucky sometimes. 

Pregnant women without easy access to a hospital with obstetric services could be at an increased risk of giving birth prematurely, giving birth in an emergency room, or outside of a hospital entirely, public-health experts say. Thousands of other pregnant rural women are facing that risk as hospitals reduce or close obstetric services to cut costs. "Nationwide, 53 rural counties lost obstetrics care from 2014 through 2018, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association." It also found that 1.045 of the out of 1,976 rural counties "never had hospitals with obstetrics services to begin with."

Communities of color and those with high poverty rates are especially at risk. Not only are they more likely to lose or never have local obstetric services, but they're more likely to have transportation issues or lack insurance that would cover a pricey ambulance ride to a hospital further away, Lee reports. Local ambulance services might not be able to respond as readily because they're stretched thin too.

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