37 Alabama counties make up ‘maternity care desert’

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) – New hope to shrink what OB/GYN’s call the ‘maternity care desert’ in west Alabama. That means pregnant women in rural areas, such as a large swath of west Alabama, don’t have easy access to prenatal care.

We’re talking about counties such as Pickens, Lamar, Fayette and Greene where they don’t have delivery services. But there are programs in the works that may help change that.

The March of Dimes says 36% of counties in the U.S. are considered ‘maternity care deserts,’ and west Alabama is right there in the mix, simply meaning there aren’t enough medical providers – if any at all – to provide prenatal care or delivery services.

This didn’t happen overnight. Dr. Don Williamson says Alabama has 37 counties that fall under that category with the concentration in what’s known as the Black Belt in Alabama.

“Several things happen. Number one, increasing deliveries were done by OB as opposed to family practices. Second, there’s the liability crisis several years ago,” said Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson.

All of this means pregnant women with no direct prenatal care have to drive to places like Tuscaloosa. For some, that’s not an issue. For others, it is a major challenge in light of high gasoline prices.

“Certainly, transportation has historically been a challenge in rural areas, transportation makes it harder for moms to keep appointments,” said Dr. Williamson.

But hope may be on the way in the way of new programs, according to Carolyn Miller of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“One of which UAB has begun their nurse mid-wife program. They had the first class start in the fall. That will increase providers across the state and we’re hoping they will go into the rural areas. I would like to see larger practices go into the rural areas one or two days a week. I don’t know if that will happen,” said Miller, who is the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Perinatal Division Director.

Dr. Williamson says the following counties do have delivery services: Tuscaloosa, Bibb, Marengo and Dallas.

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