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Healthcare Advocates Sound Alarm on Disturbing Trends in Maternal Care Access

by Pennsylvania Department of Health

Healthcare Advocates Sound Alarm on Disturbing Trends in Maternal Care Access

Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson Tuesday joined fellow state leaders and patients during a visit to an organization serving expectant mothers and families to address Black maternal health disparities and maternal health deserts across Pennsylvania.

“As a board-certified OBGYN who spent decades caring for people during their pregnancies, I understand the importance of working harder to provide access to quality maternal care services for everyone during pregnancy and afterward,” said Dr. Johnson. “The latest data show that in Pennsylvania, more than 105,000 women 18-44 years of age live in counties with little or no obstetric care. That is completely intolerable.”

During a news conference today at the Pettaway Pursuit Foundation – a non-profit educational and community outreach organization for expectant mothers and families – leaders from the Department of Health, Pennsylvania Commission for Women and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs highlighted disturbing trends in maternal care access.

According to a recent March of Dimes report, maternity deserts are growing in Pennsylvania, with six counties considered maternity care deserts, up from five counties in the previous report. A maternity care desert is a county where there’s a lack of maternity care resources, no hospitals or birth centers offering obstetric care and no obstetric providers.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that maternal mortality rates rose between 2019 and 2020, and that Black women are almost three times as likely as white women to die after giving birth.

“My deep concern for the lack of priority around the needs of maternal healthcare in Delaware County has allowed me to understand and further investigate the critical inequities and life-threatening disregard for women and birthing people in my district and throughout the commonwealth,” said Representative Gina Curry, a member of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women. “The growing increase in maternity deserts has overwhelmingly exacerbated the maternal mortality rates and more specifically the life-altering devastation that has more than doubled the impact around black maternal healthcare outcomes, accessibility and equitable healthcare that we all deserve. This crisis continues to destroy lives. It is unacceptable!”

“Black women experience the highest number of maternal mortality rates in comparison to any other subgroup in the United States,” said LaDeshia Maxwell, executive director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs. “It is important that in Pennsylvania, we do everything that we can to ensure Black women have access to quality, equitable maternal care. Maternity care deserts only make it more difficult for Black women to receive the care they need for the issues that are ‘common’ for our demographic, such as hypertension. As we examine the findings of the March of Dimes report, I urge that we consider increasing the number of maternal care providers in Pennsylvania and better support Black women healthcare providers who are doing the work to ensure that Black women are receiving quality care.”

Dr. Johnson noted that potential solutions to the maternal deserts and disparities in care are being developed, including:

The Pennsylvania Commission for Women and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs continue to work closely with community stakeholders and the Wolf Administration to address maternal health deserts in Pennsylvania. The commissions stand with Governor Wolf’s call on the General Assembly to create and pass meaningful legislation and work on solutions to these issues.