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3 Reasons Why a Holistic, Community Approach Can Help Improve Maternal Care in Georgia

Woman with doctor

Just when Georgia's moms thought their lives were returning to some sense of normality in today's post-pandemic world, they are now facing a new challenge: surging inflation that is putting pressure on funds available for healthcare.

These days it is hard not to miss the news stories about how inflation is running around 8% annually, its highest level in 40 years. And most economic experts foresee inflation remaining elevated for the rest of this year. While healthcare costs generally lag inflation (contracts among insurers, providers and the government are agreed in advance), rising prices for food, gas and clothing already are taking a bite out of our wallets.

For expecting mothers who do not receive prenatal care because they can no longer afford it due to inflation, the consequences could be dire. Research has shown that babies of mothers who forgo prenatal care are five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who receive care.

Our state, sadly, has the highest maternal death rate in the country, with about 26 Georgia women dying each year from pregnancy complications for every 100,000 births (compared to the national average of about 17), according to the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH). GDPH also estimates that 87% of those were preventable.

The solution to improving outcomes requires a holistic strategy to maternal care. It involves building community and extending care beyond conventional healthcare providers to include a wider range of social services experts, such as child and family social workers, mental health professionals, and housing and transportation specialists. Here are three areas where such an approach can make a difference:

1. Build a community of traditional and non-traditional healthcare professionals

Effective maternity care requires a collaborative approach. In addition to traditional healthcare professionals - an obstetrician/gynecologist, primary care physician, midwife and nurse -expecting mothers can benefit from the care of nonmedical experts.

Involving a nutritionist, doula, mental health therapist and community health worker, for example, can help patients stay healthy during pregnancy and better prepare for birth. These professionals are specially trained in their area of expertise and can provide essential nutritional and emotional care beyond that offered conventional healthcare practitioners.

A multidisciplinary team approach helps ensure that no stone is left unturned, and mothers receive the proper care before and after birth.

2. Build a virtual community

Before the pandemic, consumer use of virtual healthcare services was limited. Today, telemedicine is no longer a “nice to have” option. It is a “must have” service. With the right internet connection and computer, virtual care is now readily available to expecting mothers.

Virtual care makes it easier - especially for working women and expecting mothers who do not have a car of their own or rely on public transportation - to schedule visits and follow-up appointments and discuss test results and care plans. Virtual prenatal classes also will significantly help first-time mothers become more knowledgeable and prepared for childbirth.

3. Build a community beyond medical care

Another important consideration involves assessing the social, economic and physical environments of expecting mothers. These social determinants of health - education, safe and affordable housing and transportation, easy access to grocery stores - all play a role in a mother's health and quality of life.

Affordable housing and healthcare is a topic unto itself, but there is a growing body of research that has linked poor health to housing instability (such as falling behind on rent or having to move because of gentrification). Local affordable housing experts can provide invaluable insight that can potentially help improve health by identifying non-medical costs and barriers that may negatively impact care.

Just as important, many expecting mothers - especially those in underserved populations -require reliable, inexpensive transportation options so they can visit members of their healthcare team. Our company, for example, offers no-cost transportation services to make it easy for mothers to get to and from visits with their healthcare professionals.

There is a well-known African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” By involving a community of traditional and non-traditional healthcare professionals, a virtual community and a community beyond medical care, we collectively can help more expecting mothers deliver healthy babies and improve the standard of maternal care in our state.

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