Some rural areas in Texas were already without maternity wards, and more rural hospitals in the state have begun shutting theirs down.
Such regions are now being described as “maternity deserts” by experts like Adrian Billings, MD, chief of staff of Big Bend Regional Medical Center.
Only 40% of Texas’ rural hospitals provide labor and delivery services, according to the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals.
Not having immediate access to appropriate healthcare providers could be dangerous for pregnant women. With fewer hospitals offering maternity services, women in five counties in deep East Texas are forced to drive long distances to get the care they need, per Fox 4 News.
Last year, a woman gave birth in the parking lot of Hereford Regional Medical Center after having to drive over an hour to get there, according to The Texas Tribune. The hospital’s CEO, Jeff Barnhart, shared stories of patients being forced to deliver in cars, ambulances, and rest stops.
Nationally, hospitals are dealing with nursing shortages amid strikes and burnout. Jasper Memorial Hospital was the largest hospital in the East Texas region with a maternity ward before it stopped staffing employees qualified to deliver babies.
Eleanor Klibanoff, a women’s health reporter for The Texas Tribune, has been tracking the gap in maternity care options in the state for a few years. She says Texas has a huge shortage of family physicians to deliver babies in rural communities.
“It’s just very hard to entice healthcare professionals who are already very high in demand to work in these under-resourced rural communities,” Klibanoff told Fox 4 News.
Klibanoff stressed that the maternity ward shortage is a serious problem that will only get worse with time if nothing is done.
“Imagine if the state of Connecticut said, ‘We’re not going to deliver babies anymore’ — I think there’d be a lot more outrage than you get from these regions in rural Texas,” she said.