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Lack of obstetric beds could contribute to state’s high infant mortality rate, officials say

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 9:36 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Mississippi State Department of Health experts say the shockingly low number of hospitals in the state with obstetric beds could be a factor in the state’s high infant mortality rate.

There are 113 hospitals in the state of Mississippi. Out of those, 83 do not have obstetric beds, according to MSDH officials. That breaks down to nearly 75% of Mississippi hospitals being unable to provide adequate prenatal care.

“The way hospitals set up to be able to be delivery units, they have to be approved to have beds for obstetrics,” said Dr. Charlene Collier, a perinatal health advisor with MSDH. “So, they have to be able to provide that full scope of services, have providers for it, have technology for it.”

When it comes to the Pine Belt, a 2020 obstetrical utilization report shows only Forrest, Jones and Wayne counties had hospitals with OB beds in 2020. This means pregnant women in other areas of the Pine Belt may have to travel to give birth and to receive emergency prenatal care.

So what do women living in areas without OB beds do during emergencies or high-risk pregnancies?

“They may often visit that closest hospital and then there’s a delay in getting the care that they need and needing to be transferred to a higher level of care,” Collier said.

Doctors say the medical risks don’t stop after women give birth.

“One particular area this is important is in that post-partum period where moms may think, ‘OK, I’m not pregnant anymore, I’m having this problem. I’ll go to into my local emergency department.’ But she’s actually suffering a complication from pregnancy like pre-eclampsia and that has to be identified and treated in accordance with obstetrics standards that if that hospital is not aware of them, they may undertreat or discharge that patient who really would otherwise be admitted if an obstetric provider had evaluated her,” Collier said.

The good news is, some health experts are utilizing new technologies to help keep moms and babies safe during and after pregnancy.

“Having options like telehealth could be a big contributor where locally there could be, you know, opportunities for local ultrasound or moms have blood pressure cuffs at home,” Collier said.

For more information on the Infant Mortality Rate in Mississippi, click here.

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