Panic Rises as Hospital Units Begin Closing

( — Three Alabama hospitals are set to permanently close their maternity wards, leaving expectant mothers grappling with heightened anxiety over a lack of local healthcare options. The shutdown of these facilities will effectively strip both Shelby and Monroe counties of any nearby birthing hospitals.

While this may seem like a regional issue, this situation serves as a startling illustration of a growing national crisis: the vanishing availability of essential obstetrics care across the US. At least 217 locations have closed up shop since 2011. Now, more than a third of all counties across the country are considered maternity care deserts.

Residents in rural and underprivileged areas are often forced to travel great distances to access basic maternal care. In Monroe County alone, parents-to-be face a potential drive of up to 100 miles to reach a labor and delivery department.

Excessive travel times may also drive pregnant mothers to avoid seeking prenatal care. This raises the risk of complications that affect both mother and baby, such as HELLP syndrome, high blood pressure, placenta previa, and pre-eclampsia.

Alabama currently holds one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, according to a think tank study by the Milken Institute. Statistics show that just over 64 women died between 2018 and 2021 for every 100,000 births within the state. That’s about 150 deaths in total.

But mothers aren’t the only ones at risk. Alabama’s infant mortality rate is also one of the highest in the nation. Data collected by the CDC in 2021 shows that an average of 7.5 babies died for every 1,000 births within the state. Mississippi (9.39) and Arkansas (8.59) reported the most losses, while North Dakota (2.77) reported the fewest.

Staffing shortages and financial constraints play a major role in the crisis. People living in states with high infant and maternal mortality rates tend to be less likely to have health insurance, which impacts profitability.

Legal battles focused on reproductive rights, including abortion, also interfere with operating in states with heavy restrictions. Milken Institute spokeswoman Dr. Katherine Sacks said changes to state laws raise new challenges. “It’s harder to train obstetricians in states that don’t allow doctors to perform [Dilation and curettage (D&C)] procedures,” she explained.

D&Cs are often used in the facilitation of abortions. However, obstetricians also use the procedure to address heavy bleeding and tissue retention during miscarriages.

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