ATLANTA — Both white and African American women in rural parts of Georgia have significantly higher rates of maternal morality than urban women.
Those were the findings of researchers from the Mercer University School of Medicine, who were among academics from various higher educational institutions presenting research on maternal mortality Thursday, during the second meeting of the House study committee on the topic.
According to Dr. Jacob Warren, director of the Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, rural African American women have 30% higher maternal mortality than urban African American women, while rural white women have 50% higher risks than urban white women.
“There are layers of risk for rural women in particular,” Warren said.
The lack of access to heath care in rural Georgia is extreme, he said, 93 rural counties have no hospital with a labor and delivery unit.
Mercer educators and representatives from other universities who presented their research, reiterated the need for expansion of health care benefits to combat maternal morality and pushed the idea of expanding post-natal Medicaid care for mothers from 60 to 90 days — or even better, a full year after giving birth.
“That’s what I am asking for,” Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said, “and I think everyone else on this panel would push for a year.”
But even funds set aside for research on maternal mortality, let alone solutions, are set to be cut under Gov. Brian Kemp’s mandated state agency budget cuts. The Morehouse School of Medicine is under threat of losing $500,000 for a specialized center for maternal mortality research.
“Let me tell you right before, yesterday, I lobbied the governor’s office to get the $500,000 back,” Cooper told Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, the president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine, as she stepped up to speak.
Rice said the research would look at why women wait or refuse to receive care. “Near misses” of women who almost died from pregnancy are the stories researchers need to start paying attention to, she said.
“Dead women cannot talk, they cannot speak,” Rice said. “We have to hear from the women who survived and understand what we did not do well enough to give them the confidence to come in sooner.”
Mercer University's Warren said that in an ideal world every county would have some form of pregnancy specialist — ranging from a midwife to obstetrician.
Committee members pointed out that some rural counties have less than 2,000 people and cannot sustain a small hospital, let alone a labor unit.
“You’re not going to get an obstetrician in every county,” Rice agreed, “but you need to get access in every county.”