National report on maternal and infant health gives Arkansas; Missouri poor grades

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 3:42 PM CST
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - A recent report from the March of Dimes, an organization focused on improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature births, and infant mortality, shows the maternal and infant health crisis is worsening for all families.

Arkansas and Missouri received poor grades with above-average preterm birth rates. The data shows Arkansas has a 12% preterm birth rate while Missouri is 11.3%. One of the highlighted factors is the inadequacy of prenatal care, which affects one in five expecting in Arkansas and nearly one in seven in Missouri.

Members of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) say their focus right now is on improving access to specialized care in rural communities.

“In rural areas in particular, sometimes it is a 30-minute drive, and then maybe that doctor’s office only has one or two physicians trying to see that whole community,” said Elizabeth Pitman with the ADHS. “One of the things we’re working on as an agency to help with rural health is access, particularly to specialty care.”

Pitman says the efforts to expand Medicaid and rural health coverage significantly impact maternal care, also far exceeding it in other areas like mental health and crisis care.

Many organizations across the Ozarks work to connect expecting mothers with services early in pregnancy to get the level of care needed for a safe pregnancy. One in Harrison is Informed Choices Women’s Center of the Ozarks is a provider of such resources and has seen increased demand in recent months.

“Well, we’ve been really busy. I mean, we’ve had a steady stream of clients asking for nurses to give them pregnancy tests, to give them ultrasounds, to see if their pregnancy is viable, if there is a heartbeat,” said Rhonda Graham, the organization’s director.

Graham says this is a pivotal time in pregnancy care following the fall of Roe v. Wade earlier this year. An essential part is funding for pregnancy centers and rural health facilities.

“We have the opportunity to make sure women know that they are not alone,” she said. “I mean, anytime you get state leaders willing to invest in pregnancy centers all across Arkansas, that is a great day because funding is a big issue.”

Last month Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the approval of the Medicaid expansion program through Arkansas Health and Opportunity for Me (ARHOME) to include an innovative service called Life360 HOMEs, focused on increasing access to specialized care in rural areas.

CLICK HERE to see the full March of Dimes report for Arkansas.

AND CLICK HERE to see the same report for Missouri.

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