There’s a maternal health crisis in Iowa that needs to be fixed

Anticipating the birth of a new baby is so exciting.

Unfortunately, Iowans should be losing sleep worrying about Iowa’s parents-to-be.

Iowa’s maternal health care system is hemorrhaging at a dangerous clip.  Our state is quickly becoming less safe for pregnant moms and babies.

No pregnant mom should have to worry that there will be no safe place to deliver her baby in the community where she lives.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Since 2001, 35 labor and delivery departments have closed in hospitals across the state.  In the past three years alone, Iowa has lost 10 labor and delivery departments and another 10 labor and delivery departments could close in the short-term future.

Iowa is also in desperate need of more maternal health care providers.  

Iowa ranks 50th in the country for the number of OB/GYNs serving our population.  In fact, 64% of our rural Level 1 hospitals do not have an obstetrician on staff.  Several hospitals that rely on general surgeons for labor and delivery care are bracing for a wave of retirements with more than 50% of the general surgeons over the age of 50.

Less access to care is not safe for parents-to-be.

In the past three years, maternal mortality has more than doubled, claiming the lives of nearly 50 moms.  Heartbreaking pregnancy loss continues to impact thousands of Iowa families every year.  And, thousands of Iowans who menstruate are quietly facing significant period problems that impact their ability to go to work, go to school, have healthy pregnancies, and lead healthy, non-disrupted daily lives.

We’re also seeing an alarming increase in the number of cesarean section births, which can lead to dangerous health complications for moms in their subsequent pregnancies and beyond.  

Iowans need better access to safe reproductive and maternal health care close to home no matter where they live.

Hospitals that close their labor and delivery departments are ill-equipped to safely deliver babies into the world when moms arrive without adequate time to get to another facility.

Our state cannot afford to lose more labor and delivery departments, especially at the same time rural EMS services are struggling to maintain 24-7 ambulance service.

Iowans, the warning signals are blaring.  We must do more to protect the health of women and girls in our state.  Our future depends on it.

If we want to encourage young people to live in smaller communities across our state, we’ve got to adequately fund their local health care systems.

We’ve got to help smaller hospitals keep their labor and delivery departments open.  That means adequately funding prenatal care and labor and delivery costs for Medicaid patients.  Hospitals shouldn’t lose money for doing the right thing by caring for women and babies.  

Before a local hospital closes its labor and delivery department, safeguards should be put in place to ensure moms-to-be can deliver their babies within a safe distance and that the other providers have the capacity to take additional patients.  Iowa doesn’t let nursing homes shutter without finding homes for their patients first.  Parents-to-be deserve safeguards too.

Iowa should work to recruit more OB/GYNs, doulas and midwives to practice in parts of the state where access to care is needed.  We also must rebuild Iowa’s family planning network to ensure Iowans have access to comprehensive reproductive health care services close to home.

Iowa should be the safest place in the country to have a baby.  Let’s make it happen.  

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