Rural Maternal Health Week
This week, NRHA dedicated its messaging to highlighting challenges and opportunities to improving maternal health in rural America. The NRHA social media platforms shared messages aimed at increasing awareness of the health disparities faced by rural moms throughout the week, and on Wednesday, NRHA leadership attended an event hosted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services titled, “A Conversation on Maternal Health Care in Rural Communities: Charting a Path to Improved Access, Quality and Outcomes.” Approximately 1,000 persons attended the event in-person or participated virtually, including a variety of notable stakeholders, such as CMS Administrator Seema Verma and AAFP President John Cullen, to discuss strategies to address the maternal health crisis in rural America.
More than 18 million reproductive age women live in rural America, yet over half of rural counties have no hospital-based obstetrics services. Rural access to maternal health services is disappearing; more than 200 rural maternity wards closed between 2004-2014, and 1 in 10 rural counties lost access to obstetrics services. Lack of access to maternal health services in rural communities is contributing to the rising rates of maternal and infant mortality in the United States. Additionally, researchers at Rural Maternal Health Forum reiterated that rural Americans who are low-income, members of racial minorities, or live in more remote locations are those most likely to lose access to maternal health services. As these women continue to lose access to local obstetric services, more and more rural babies are born outside of hospitals or in hospitals without obstetrics care. Lack of access to local obstetric services is jeopardizing the health of rural mothers and their babies.
Ultimately, NRHA advocates that stakeholders focus on three essential strategies to improve maternal health care access for rural mothers; stabilize rural hospitals, recruit and retain a sufficient rural workforce, and encourage collaboration among rural maternal care providers. Hospitals are struggling to maintain access to maternal health services for the communities they serve; 46% of rural hospitals are operating at a loss, and 106 rural hospitals have closed since 2010. Rural hospitals are being forced to decide whether to stop offering obstetrics services or keep their doors. Additionally, while 20% of the US population lives in rural areas, less 10% of primary care providers and even fewer specialty providers practice in rural America. ACOG reports that lack of access to obstetricians in rural areas has resulted in 1 in 5 family physicians practicing routine deliveries and some providing 100% of obstetric care.
The rural health care landscape requires solutions to the maternal health crisis that address the vulnerability of rural hospitals and incentivize practitioners to serve and collaborate in rural areas across professions. Rural moms deserve access to local, quality maternal health care, and their health depends on it.
Click on the links below to view some of our Twitter graphics from this past week!
Graphic 1, Graphic 2, Graphic 3, Graphic 4