Maternal and child health in Alabama again ranks among the worst in the United States, according to a new annual March of Dimes study.
The nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of mothers and babies in the United States released its 2022 report card this month, giving Alabama a failing grade for its rate of premature births. In the past year, 13.1 percent of babies born in the state were preterm, that is, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
This is the highest rate Alabama has seen since March of Dimes began its record high in 2011, and is lower only than Louisiana, with a rate of 13.5%, and the Mississippi, with a rate of 15.0%.
Premature babies can have problems with vision, learning, hearing and other aspects of development.
“It’s expensive for premature babies. If they are born too early, they will most likely be admitted to NICU because not everything was developed in the womb,” said Honor McDaniel, director of the Alabama March of Dimes. “We are seeing higher rates in minority groups, which shows that we are not taking good care of our population.”
Some 16.7% of black babies born in Alabama are premature, compared to 11.2% of white babies, 10.6% of Hispanic babies and 9.6% of Asian and Pacific Islander babies. Overall, the rate of premature births for black women in Alabama is 50% higher than for all other women.
Black mothers also have higher infant mortality rates than other mothers in the state, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
March of Dimes offered a potential explanation for deteriorating maternal and child health in its report on maternity care deserts, which particularly affect women living in rural areas.
Only 21 Alabama counties, including Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Dallas and Jefferson, have full access to maternity care. The other 43 counties have little or no access to maternity care.
Areas that March of Dimes designates as maternity care deserts have no hospitals or birthing centers that offer obstetric care and no obstetric providers in that county. More than a third of Alabama counties, 37%, fall into this category.
Eleven counties in the state do not have a single federally qualified health center, and besides those in Montgomery, only one rural blackbelt hospital offers maternity care. This is the Vaughan Regional Medical Center in Selma.
“If you think about it, women in rural areas will be farther away, especially in these deserts, from maternity care, from their prenatal care, from a hospital if they have a problem,” McDaniel said. “These maternity care deserts are associated with higher poverty rates, lower median incomes, higher rates of uninsured, and that’s tough, especially when we don’t see any improvement in Alabama. “
McDaniel also said Alabama’s medical insurance reimbursement rates are calculated based on 2009 data, which means healthcare providers as a whole aren’t being reimbursed as much as they are. need. When a rural provider sees a low number of births in their practice and does not receive adequate reimbursement, this can affect their ability to continue providing maternity care.
March of Dimes advocates for several policy actions focused on potential solutions to poor maternal and child health. These include expanding Medicaid for those who are at or below 138% of the federal poverty line, expanding access to midwifery care in all states, increasing levels eligibility for parental income under Medicaid and the extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months.
Here are the counties in Alabama that March of Dimes considers maternity care deserts:
- Lawrence County
- Franklin County
- Marion County
- Winston County
- Lamar County
- Cleburne County
- Randolph County
- clay county
- Picken County
- Greene County
- Sumter County
- Hale County
- Perry County
- Marengo County
- Choctaw County
- Wilcox County
- Lowndes County
- Elmore County
- Bullock County
- Barbour County
- Henry County
- Crenshaw County
- Monroe County
- Conecuh County
- Washington County
Hadley Hitson covers the rural South for the Montgomery Advertiser and Report for America. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. To support his work, subscribe to advertiser Where donate to Report for America.
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