Curry: Providing Maternity Care is Essential

We are in a health care crisis. According to a recent report by the March of Dimes, more than one in three U.S. counties are considered a “Maternity Care Desert.” A total of 6.9 million women live in an area with either low or no access to maternity care. Delaware County is growing into one of these areas, due to the closures of medical and behavioral health services at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. People living in Delaware County have only two choices for maternity services, Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland and Riddle Hospital in Middletown. However, for the most vulnerable residents with the fewest travel options in the most populated part of Delaware County, those locations are not easily accessible and so they are left without maternity services.

In May, I invited my colleagues to join me for a conversation about the current crisis we are facing. We heard heartfelt, knowledge-filled testimonies from community partners and stakeholders who participated in the hearing. They stressed the destructive impact that closures have on communities. They create additional structural inequities, irreversible harm, a rise in maternal and infant mortality among women of color and all women who live and attempt to deliver their babies in a maternity desert.

Some expectant mothers in Delaware County now must travel 45-60 minutes to deliver their babies. This is terrifying and unsafe. The tremendous impact of these closures has severely contributed to the women’s health care inequities residents are already facing. According to the March of Dimes report, one in four Native American women and one in five Black women did not receive adequate prenatal care. That’s compared to one in 10 white women. When it comes to maternal mortality rate, the rate for non-Hispanic Black women is nearly three times as high as the rate for non-Hispanic white women.

We must hold our health care corporations accountable. Crozer Health, who announced in September that it would close Delaware County Memorial Hospital, did not think about what is best for the community. It made its decision based on what is best for Crozer Health, putting profits over people. In June, I joined my House and Senate colleagues from Delaware County to introduce a package of legislation that would prevent the financial looting of Pennsylvania hospitals by private-equity and for-profit companies.

We must also increase funding and lower barriers to make sure we can provide essential care to those who need it. We must find solutions. For example, we must look at doula licensing and certification processes. We can also invest in funding lactation support and community programs that provide support to families and birthing people.

The issue of maternity deserts is a concern throughout the commonwealth and impacts both rural and urban communities. We should be expanding access to prenatal and postpartum care, not limiting it.

Rep. Gina H. Curry (D-Delaware) was elected state representative for the 164th Legislative District in a November 2021 special election.