How One Doctor in Rural Alabama Is Trying to Make Health Care More Available to the State’s Pregnant Women

Pregnant womanGetting health care in rural Alabama isn’t easy, especially for women who plan to give birth. But one doctor in Bibb County is making it a little bit simpler for mothers in the region.

After John Waits completed his obstetrics fellowship at the University of Alabama in 2004, he made it his “mission” to bring labor and delivery back to the county.

In 1999, the Bibb Medical Center closed its labor and delivery unit, forcing thousands of women in the area to seek their prenatal care elsewhere.

Waits is now the CEO of Cahaba Medical Care in the area, where he has served as a family doctor and obstetrician for 11 years.

But before he reopened the unit in 2004, pregnant women in the region had difficulty getting to their appointments — or sometimes even finding them in the first place.

In 1980, there were 46 rural counties with labor and delivery units out of Alabama’s total of 54 rural counties; today, there are just 17. This means that more women are traveling across the state just to get necessary medical care for themselves and their babies.

But that isn’t always easy for those who come to Cahaba Medical Care. Nearly 100% of them qualify for Medicaid, and some even live on a few of the nation’s 2.2 million farms, so they’re not close by, either.

Additionally, living in poverty in a rural area can also mean that transportation isn’t always readily available. As of 2012, seven to 10% of households in Bibb County don’t own a car, said Waits.

Other roadblocks also affect care in Alabama. A recent report on the health insurance marketplace by the National Women’s Law Center revealed that many health care plans in Alabama fail to meet the minimum requirements set out by the Affordable Care Act.

For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama has a plan that limits prenatal visits to just six a year, even though the ACA requires that plans don’t limit such visits for patients. The Act also requires insurance companies to provide lactation counseling for mothers during the entire time they are breastfeeding, rather than just two visits during pregnancy and three the year after birth, as Blue Cross Blue Shield currently does.

Waits also points out that many women require at least two to three visits early in a pregnancy to rule out any complications, especially for a first baby.

Plans that limit visits, along with the transportation obstacles that many rural Alabamans face, are just a few of the issues that Waits and his staff are trying to overcome to deliver quality care in Bibb County and beyond.

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