Nearly Half of Missouri Counties are 'Maternity Deserts'

The mostly rural counties have no hospital obstetrics care and no OBGYN doctors

Nov 15, 2022 at 11:14 am
click to enlarge Twin Rivers Medical Center closed four years ago. - Sarah Lovett
Sarah Lovett
Twin Rivers Medical Center closed four years ago.

Missouri does not fair well in a newly published study of women's access to obstetric care.

Obstetric care is healthcare provided to a woman during pregnancy and childbirth.

The study was compiled by the nationwide nonprofit March of Dimes, whose mission is to provide mothers and infants access to better care.

In Missouri, 47 percent of counties have no hospitals with obstetric care or obstetricians or gynecologists, qualifying them as what the report calls "maternity deserts." It's estimated that about half of the rural women in these maternity deserts have to drive 30 minutes or more for care.

Another 22 percent of counties in the state qualify as areas with "moderate to low access to OB/GYN care," according to Flatland KC.

In Missouri as well as neighboring Kansas, the maternity deserts tend to be rural.

Karen White, the CEO of Missouri Highlands Healthcare, a healthcare provider in southeastern Missouri, told Flatland KC, “It can be over an hour’s drive in many locations in our area to the nearest hospital (with obstetric services). That can mean life or death when it comes to difficult pregnancies.”

Nationwide nearly 2.2 million women live in maternity deserts and it affects about 150,000 babies.

Also across the country, about 20 percent of pregnancies are considered high risk. But in southeast Missouri that number quadruples to 80 percent.

“In the middle of nowhere — which is where we are at — providers don’t have a ton of resources, but there are a lot of high-need patients,” White said. “Sometimes we look around and ask, ‘What third world country are we in?’ But no, it’s just rural Missouri.”

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