March of Dimes 2020 Report: Nowhere to Go: Maternity Care Deserts Across the U.S.

Getting quality maternity care can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Unfortunately, not every woman in the U.S. gets good maternity care. One reason for this is because they live in a maternity care desert. A maternity care desert is an area where there are not enough hospitals, health care providers or health care services for pregnant and postpartum women. The March of Dimes 2020 report: Nowhere to Go: Maternity Care Deserts across the U.S., found that 7 million women of childbearing age live in counties with limited or no access to maternity care. About 500,000 babies are born to women living in these areas each year.

How do maternity care deserts impact the health outcomes of moms and babies?

The health of moms and babies is at risk when they live in counties with maternity care deserts. Without access to routine quality health care these moms and babies have an increased risk of maternal and infant mortality (death) and morbidity (serious complications), including low birth weight and preterm birth. Babies who are born prematurely or with special health conditions may not get the medical care they need in counties with maternity care deserts. Here are some of the report’s findings:

  • 7 million women of childbearing age live in areas where there’s no access or limited access to maternity care. Additionally, 1 in 8 babies (500,000 babies) are born in these areas each year.
  • 46 percent of counties across the U.S. have limited access or no access to maternity care.
  • Women of color are the most affected—about 35 percent of the women of childbearing age living in areas of no access or very limited access to maternity care are women of color.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many health systems and/or hospital-based maternity care centers financially. This could be a big reason for why some maternity care centers in urban and rural areas need to close, leaving women with very few options or none at all. 1 in 3 women of childbearing age living in maternity care deserts live in a large metropolitan area or urban setting.

What is March of Dimes doing to close this gap?

March of Dimes is calling on communities, candidates and policymakers to take immediate action to better serve the women and children in our country. We are calling for a set of policy actions that can create positive change, #BlanketChange. Supporting #BlanketChange means:

  • Demanding health equity, access to health care services, and prevention.  Health equity means everyone has a fair chance to be healthy.
  • Eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. These are differences in the health of a group that may happen because of problems like not having enough money, lack of access to good health care or healthy foods.
  • Driving economic, social and health equity by focusing on prevention, treatment and social determinants of health. Social determinants of health are conditions in which you’re born and then grow, work, live and age that affect your health throughout your life.
  • Improving access to care through expanding critical health programs and closing gaps in coverage.
  • Addressing preventable health conditions through expanding research and improving maternal morbidity and mortality data collection.

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