March of Dimes today released its 2022 report, Nowhere to Go: Maternity Care Deserts Across the U.S., revealing access to maternity care is diminishing in places where it’s needed most, impacting nearly seven million American women of childbearing age and roughly 500,000 babies. The third update of the report, produced in partnership with Reckitt, shows a two percent increase in counties classified as maternity care deserts since the 2020 report, primarily driven by hospital and maternity care unit closures and loss of obstetrics providers. The data reinforces that the U.S. is still among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth, especially in rural areas and communities of color.
Maternity care deserts are counties without a hospital or birth center offering obstetrics care and without any obstetrics providers.
“With an average of two women dying every day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth and two babies dying every hour, our country is facing a unique and critical moment as the infant and maternal health crisis continues intensifying,” said Stacey D. Stewart, President and CEO. “With hospital closures, inflation and COVID-19 limiting access to care, the compounding issues of our time are bearing down on families, forcing them to extend themselves in new ways to find the care they need and ways to afford it. Access to maternity care should not be optional, which is why we’re launching the Mamagenda for #BlanketChange to build support for policies to ensure all families everywhere have access to high quality maternity care.”
Specifically, the 2022 Maternity Care Deserts Report shows:
- 36% of counties across the U.S. are designated as maternity care deserts, counties with zero obstetric hospitals or birth centers and zero obstetric providers.;
- 2.2 million women of childbearing age live in maternity care deserts and more than 146,000 babies are born there;
- 5% of counties have a worse designation in this report than in the 2020 report;
- Nearly 7 million women are living in communities with no or limited access to maternity care. 1 in 8 babies are born in these areas;
- The loss of obstetric providers and obstetric services in hospitals were responsible for decreases in maternity care access in over 110 counties between this report and the 2020 report;
- 1 in 4 Native American babies were born in areas with no or limited access to maternity care services; and
- 1 in 6 Black babies were born in areas with no or limited access to maternity care services.
“Our 2022 report confirms lack of access to care is one of the biggest barriers to safe, healthy pregnancies and is especially impacting rural areas and communities of color where families face economic strains in finding care,” said Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, Senior Vice President and Interim Chief Medical and Health Officer. “While we’ve seen a slight increase in obstetric providers nationwide, we continue seeing a troubling decrease in providers serving rural areas. In fact, only seven percent of obstetric providers serve rural areas and, with more than 500,000 babies born to women living in these areas, families in rural areas are at higher risk for poor outcomes.”
As part of the effort to address the growing infant and maternal health crisis, March of Dimes works to evolve the Maternity Care Desert Report year after year to reflect recent advancements. The 2022 report includes new focus areas including postpartum care, chronic disease and pregnancy, as well as additional information on:
- Telehealth – An examination of the distribution of low access to broadband that remains a barrier to increasing telehealth across our landscape; and
- Federally Qualified Health Centers and Family Practice Physicians – Looking at the role of these providers in light of added barriers to accessing care.
In partnership with Elevance Health Foundation, March of Dimes will release supplemental reports on the availability of maternity care in all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico in Spring 2023.
Addressing the Crisis
Addressing the increasing maternal and infant health crisis, requires a holistic approach that considers all families, the stressors they face and the impact they have on accessing maternity care. As part of this holistic approach, March of Dimes is adding a mobile health unit to its current operating fleet of maternity care centers to bring real care to those in need where they live. In 2020, March of Dimes and Reckitt began piloting interventions to increase access to care and improve outcomes in maternity care deserts through the Better Starts for All pilot. The pilot’s primary interventions include Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers® and Community Health Workers (CHWs) in both Southeast Ohio and the Washington D.C. area. Building on the learnings from those pilots, a new mobile health unit will soon roll out in New York.
The organization also recently launched the March of Dimes Innovation Fund, a venture philanthropy initiative that will invest donated funds in early-stage companies working to address the most pressing maternal and infant health challenges. Iron Health, a tech-enabled, virtual care platform which complements OB-GYN care, was chosen as the first health care venture investment. Additionally, March of Dimes is launching a new app later this month to provide essential resources for expecting and new parents and allow them to connect with other families as they embark on their parenting journey.
And, with data showing that the quality of care can differ between facilities that mainly serve Black, Hispanic, or American Indian women compared to a mostly white-patient population, March of Dimes is working in nine local communities across the U.S., using a Collective Impact model to tackle complex social problems by organizing cross sector partners to pursue sustainable systems change. The initiative is supported by organizations such as Humana Inc. and the Humana Foundation as well as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, and focused on strategies to increase access to quality care, dismantling racism, promoting environmental justice, building economic security and safe and connected communities. To date, the Collective Impact initiatives have reached nearly 3,100 people thanks to the engagement of 219 partner organizations.
Join the Mamagenda for #BlanketChange
As a convener of organizations and individuals alike to advocate for change, March of Dimes is launching the Mamagenda for #BlanketChange to rally lawmakers, advocates and families behind actionable solutions to protect the health of moms and babies. While no single solution will solve the challenges of limited access to care, this comprehensive campaign will help increase public awareness for the lack of maternity care access and show everyone has a role to play in improving care for moms and babies. #BlanketChange partners include Phillips, Reckitt, EMD Serono, Clearblue and The Honest Company, among other national, regional, and local healthcare and advocacy groups.
March of Dimes is urging lawmakers to support the Mamagenda for #BlanketChange for better health access and to work towards achieving health equity. Moms and babies should be a priority, not an afterthought. Visit BlanketChange.org to learn more and join the growing number of partners committed to improving maternity care for all.