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Closing rural hospitals leave gaps in prenatal care options

In 2009 a hospital in Wadsworth Ohio joined the growing ranks of rural hospitals that no longer offer maternity services. According to local news reports the hospital cited an aging population in the area they serve and a decreasing number of births as reasons for no longer offering these services to pregnant women.

For families living away from major metropolitan areas the lack of nearby maternity service can create obstacles to ensuring that both mother and child receive the best care possible before during and after the delivery.

Having to travel long distances to visit a medical center can be particularly difficult for those who do not have a flexible work schedule, have to find childcare for other children, or simply do not have the excess funds to drive several hours for each checkup.

For those rural hospitals that continue to provide maternity services the patient load suddenly increases when neighboring towns lose stop delivering babies. High patient loads on doctors and other support staff can lead to less time available to spend with each woman as she delivers.

There may be a chicken and egg phenomenon occurring in some cases. If a family feels that a large medical center in a big city may be able to provide a higher level of care, particularly for at risk pregnancies they will of course be more likely to go there. In turn the local hospital has less need and justification for specialized equipment and training for its obstetrics department. Hopefully this part of the trend can be reversed if all hospitals ensure that they are equipped to provide the very best care available, and patients have the confidence to stay with their home-town provider.

Source: The Daily Yonder: "Closing Maternity Wards: Costly and Risky" Kelli Haywood, April 27, 2011

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