Each week, Ashley Landreneau, a mom of two with another little one on the way, jumps in her car and heads to her doctor’s office in Lafayette.
The 33-year-old salon owner gets a regular weekly ultrasound because a history of seven previous miscarriages means her pregnancy is considered high risk.
And while everything has gone smoothly 19 weeks into her the current pregnancy, what makes it more dangerous is how far she has to trek. From her home in Bayou Chicot, the trip to her doctor’s office is an hour away.
“With my experience and everything I’ve been through, I can’t see just anyone,” said Landreneau. “The closest hospital to me is 45 minutes away. There’s not a specialist there that can deliver. There’s no NICU.”
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Louisiana has among the highest rate of death for pregnant women in the U.S. One of the reasons, according to new research, is the lack of maternal care in many areas of the state, which forces women to travel long distances for routine checkups, emergency visits and deliveries.
Twenty-two parishes in the state are without a hospital offering obstetric care, a birth center or any OB/GYNs or certified nurse-midwives, according to an analysis of 2018 federal workforce data released last month by the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit focused on improving health care for mothers and their babies.
In Evangeline Parish, where Landreneau lives, there is just a single OB/GYN in a population of over 33,000 people. That puts the parish among the 35 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes that have little to no access to maternal care, according to the report.
Due to that scarcity, researchers estimate that one in four pregnant women in Louisiana may need to travel outside of their parish for the many appointments necessary to monitor a pregnancy: ultrasounds, blood tests, glucose screenings, specialist appointments and delivery.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, the nonprofit’s chief medical officer, said that the inconveniences of distance can make it hard for expectant mothers to get the care needed to keep them healthy.
“Transportation becomes an issue,” said Dr. Gupta. “Time becomes an issue, it becomes a money issue. You have to take a day off, go and wait in a practitioner’s office. A lot of times pregnant people have other kids they need to take care of. They have to then find child care. These things accumulate in maternity care deserts.”
According to a study published in the journal Women’s Health Issues last week, a lack of nearby providers is impacting the state’s maternal mortality rate, which was the worst in the country in 2019.
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Study author and Tulane University epidemiologist Maeve Wallace compared the geographic data from the March