WASHINGTON, D.C. – With one-quarter of Ohio counties without any practicing obstetrics and gynecology (ob-gyn) physicians, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) outlined a plan to improve access to maternity care in rural and underserved areas. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the nearly five million women living in Ohio are served by only 1,158 ob-gyns – forcing many women to drive an hour or more for prenatal and maternity care. Brown released maps from ACOG estimating the shortage of ob-gyns and average drive times to maternity centers.
“Healthy pregnancies lead to healthy babies, and no mother-to-be should go without the care she needs,” Brown said. “That’s why it’s so alarming that more than one million babies are born to mothers who did not receive adequate prenatal care each year. One way we can and must combat this problem is to ensure mothers and mothers-to-be get the care that they need. And that’s what this bill does – it would allow us to target maternity care resources where they’re most needed, and help ensure healthier pregnancies, healthier mothers, and healthier babies.”
Brown discussed how the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act, legislation he is cosponsoring, would reduce provider shortages in rural and underserved communities and ensure women have access to timely, high-quality maternity care. Brown was joined by Susan Greene, a certified nurse midwife from northeast Ohio to discuss his plan to help reduce maternity care shortages.
“The most vulnerable childbearing women in this state are those who struggle to access health care services,” Greene said. “As an Ohio Nurse Midwife with 30 years’ experience working with underserved populations in the Cleveland area, I know firsthand that early prenatal care can impact the incidence of low-birth weight and premature births. This bill to improve access to maternity care would begin to lay the ground work to significantly increase care for all women.”
According to ACOG, babies born to mothers who received no prenatal care are three times more likely to be low birth weight, and five times more likely to die than babies whose mothers received care. Ohio ranks worst in the nation for African American infant mortality and 48th in the nation across all births. In 2012, 1,047 Ohio babies died before their first birthday.
The bipartisan legislation – introduced by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) – would help reduce workforce shortages by directing the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to identify and designate maternity care shortage areas that may be used by the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). More than 9,200 NHSC Corps clinicians are currently delivering services to 9.7 million people across the U.S.
While ob-gyns are recognized under the primary care shortage designation, the current program does not adequately address shortages in maternity care. Brown’s bill would create a maternity care shortage area designation so the United States can begin to fill this gap. This new designation is critical to facilitating a better understanding of where the serious maternity care shortages are located and to subsequently direct health care providers to those communities.
The bill is endorsed by ACOG and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM). A one-pager is available here.