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You'll Never Believe How Many Rural Areas Lack Maternity Care

According to new research, residents of rural counties don't have access to nearby maternity care—and many rural hospitals don't even have places to give birth.

Rural Pregnant Women Lack Healthcare Lolostock/Shutterstock
People who live in rural areas are generally fine living without many of the offerings you're more likely to find in big cities—but there's one thing no one should live without easy access to, and that's healthcare. But if recent research is any indication, many rural residents don't have access to maternity care nearby, and the problem is only escalating. 

Obstetric units of hospitals have been disappearing in rural areas, according to new research published in Health Affairs. The study measured the extent of rural maternity care closures, and its findings are alarming: Nearly half (45 percent, to be exact) of all rural counties lack hospital obstetric services—and 9 percent of rural counties lost these services between 2004 and 2014. This begs the question: Where are women in these rural areas expected to give birth? After all, you can't exactly be expected to travel great distances when you're in labor.

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Communities with large populations of non-Hispanic black women of reproductive age and those where the thresholds for Medicaid eligibility among pregnant women are higher were more likely to lose obstetric services and lack an adequate number of OB/GYN and family physicians. In short, women in rural communities simply don't have the kind of access they deserve.

Back in 2014, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published a report highlighting the health disparities among rural women. According to the report, women in rural areas have poorer health outcomes and limited access to quality medical professionals. It encouraged health care professionals to advocate for improved care for these women and break down this geographical bias—but if this recent study is any indication, the problem may be getting worse.