May 2, 2024 - Health

How health care workers would improve maternal health in NWA

a lightbulb with a glowing medical cross filament

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

This year's NWA Health Summit took place all day yesterday in Fayetteville and honed in maternal health care in Arkansas.

Why it matters: Arkansas' maternal mortality rate has doubled the national average in recent years.

  • Arkansas had the second-highest infant mortality rate in the country in 2021, with 8.59 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the CDC.

During a panel with doctors and a midwife, moderator Nirvana Manning, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UAMS, asked participants how they would improve maternal health if they had unlimited resources.

  • Here's what made the top of their lists.

Everyone would have the same childbirth and prenatal education classes offered through their clinics early on in their pregnancies, said SaraBeth Askins, maternal fetal medicine specialist at Baptist Health in Fort Smith.

Postpartum support would not be so lacking if Mary Pat Hardman, obstetrician-gynecologist at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, had her way.

  • Hardman spoke of a friend who had a baby in the Netherlands, who had access to kraamzorgs — people who come to new moms' homes in the first few weeks after birth to check on mother and baby, help with breastfeeding and even assist in cooking and cleaning.

"Even before people are pregnant, I would actually just revamp our whole food-system industry in this country because our young kids are eating so much processed garbage food and it's everywhere," said Dr. Serena Pierson, an OB-GYN at Willow Creek Women's Clinic in Johnson.

  • Unhealthy diets and lifestyle habits like not exercising are often to blame for chronic diseases.

Access to prenatal care earlier on in pregnancy without having to wait for Medicaid coverage to kick in is on the wish list for David Deschamps, maternal fetal medicine specialist at The Perinatal Center.

Lactation education and removing transportation barriers are top of mind for Dr. Shannon Case, OB-GYN at Johnson Regional Medical Center in Clarksville.

  • Case has heard of patients not making it to their appointments because they don't have a way to get there or even not having good enough tires to travel.
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