Study Shows Prenatal Care Rates Drop when Rural Hospitals Close Birthing Centers

by Brian Wilson
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A University of Iowa study finds some pregnant women in rural Iowa quit getting prenatal care when their local hospital closes its birthing center, even if prenatal care is still available. Tom Gruca, a marketing professor in the U-I’s Tippie College of Business, says they studied the impact of the recent closures of labor and delivery units at seven rural Iowa hospitals and found women seeking prenatal care fell from 83- to 79-percent.

The hospitals studied were in Clayton, Emmett, Hamilton, Hardin, Lucas, Osceola and Van Buren counties and they were the only labor and delivery unit in those counties before the closures. Gruca says prenatal care is exceptionally important.

In a worst case scenario, those problems can result in death for the baby, the mother, or both. In recent decades, Iowa has seen birthing centers close at dozens of hospitals, which Gruca calls “striking.”

The majority of those counties are rural, which means expectant mothers often face a long drive to get professional care. There are multiple reasons as to why a hospital may close its birthing center, but Gruca says most of them revolve around money.

As for the reduction in women seeking prenatal care, Gruca says one possible solution would be to set up a central source of information those mothers-to-be could access. Ideally, it would be a place where they could find health care professionals who provide the care they need, and who also accept their insurance.

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