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Millions of women in U.S. lack access to maternity care

Millions of women lack access to maternity care
Millions of women lack access to maternity care 01:59

Hereford, Texas — With two small children and a baby due in June, Kaylee Samulowitz has a lot on her plate, including a concern most expectant moms don't have: whether she'll make it to the hospital in time. 

Samulowitz lives in Pampa, Texas, a rural city of 17,000, where the local hospital closed its labor and delivery unit. She'll have to travel about an hour to an Amarillo hospital 60 miles away to deliver her baby. 

"We had a close call with my son, so it is a little nerve-racking thinking about the next one," she told CBS News. 

More than 2 million women in the U.S. live in counties with no access to prenatal care or obstetricians, what's known as maternity care deserts, according to the March of Dimes. Millions more live in areas where medical support is extremely limited. 

Fewer than half of rural Texas hospitals deliver babies. A shortage of nurses heightened by the COVID pandemic has been one of the biggest factors in the decline of maternity wards, though cost is also an issue. 

"A lot of rural hospitals are getting out of delivering babies. It's just so expensive," Jeff Barnhart, who runs Hereford Regional Medical Center in the Texas Panhandle, told CBS News. "They just get to the point where they have to make a decision on that." 

Hereford Regional Medical Center's maternity department is the only one for some 1,600 square miles. Barnhart said the medical center has to "go on diversion" for part of the week because of staffing shortages, meaning a woman in labor is sometimes taken by ambulance to another hospital about 50 miles away. 

As her due date nears, Samulowitz is on alert. 

"Even if I think it's labor, even if it might not be, we'll just head that direction," she said. "Better safe than sorry." 

For more information on access to maternity care in your area, click here

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