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If you’re pregnant in the Missouri Bootheel, you might have to drive as far as 100 miles to get to the hospital if something goes wrong — or if the baby is coming.
The New York Times reported on the case of 21-year-old Kela Abernathy, who was pregnant with twins and woke up at 4:30 a.m., screaming in pain.
[The twins] were not due for another two months. But the contractions seizing Ms. Abernathy’s lower back early that June morning told her that her son and daughter were coming. Now.
Ms. Abernathy, 21, staggered out of bed and yelled for her mother, Lynn, who had been lying awake on the living-room couch. They grabbed a few bags, scooped up Ms. Abernathy’s 2-year-old son and were soon hurtling across this poor patch of southeast Missouri in their Pontiac Bonneville, racing for help. The old hospital used to be around the corner. Now, her new doctor and hospital were nearly 100 miles away.
Medical help is growing dangerously distant for women in rural America. At least 85 rural hospitals — about 5 percent of the country’s total — have closed since 2010, and obstetric care has faced even starker cutbacks as rural hospitals calculate the hard math of survival, weighing the cost of providing 24/7 delivery services against dwindling birthrates, doctor and nursing shortages and falling revenues.
The problem goes beyond access to sufficient obstetric care. The University of North Carolina’s Rural Health Research Program noted that there have been 95 rural hospital closures from January 2010 to the present. And many of the states with the most closures have “refus[ed] federal money available for Medicaid expansion,” according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. That list of states includes Missouri, where Ms. Abernathy lived, as of the Times story’s publication.
What are lawmakers and citizens doing to address the dearth of healthcare for rural residents?
*This show was produced by our Across America team, James Morrison and Amanda Williams. *
1A Across America is funded through a grant from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 that is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting.
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