Mississippi county has 3x the national average of babies born with a low birth weight

Updated: Mar. 10, 2021 at 10:49 PM CST
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ISSAQUENA CO., Miss. (WLBT) - The town of Mayersville in Issaquena County has no hospitals and the healthcare is inconsistent, especially for mothers and mothers-to-be.

Mayersville resident Taneria Williams, 26, is usually working or spending time with her kids, but the road to motherhood hasn’t been easy - especially living in a rural area.

“I feel forgotten about,” she said. “I feel people don’t care what we have to face in our area.”

Williams says it started with a tough first pregnancy. Her baby was born underweight.

“As a mother you try to nourish your body as much you can when you are pregnant. You try to do all the necessary things you have to do to have a healthy baby and I felt because I don’t have the proper health care, I am not able to do that.”

During her second pregnancy, she had to drive more than an hour to the nearest hospital while having contractions.

Check out this staggering statistic. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2020 County Health Rankings, Issaquena County has triple the national average of babies born with a low birth weight (under 5.5 pounds). The rate in the county is 24.4 percent. The national average is 8.3 percent.

“When we talk about babies getting a healthy start, unfortunately, zip code does define what start you get,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Chief Medical and Health Officer of March of Dimes.

The 2020 March of Dimes Report Card gave the state an F grade for a 14.6 pre-term birth rate.

“Not only is the preterm birth rate high, but it is disproportionally high for mothers of color,” said Dr. Gupta.

“I believe sometimes they have the will, but they don’t have the way,” said Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center Dr. Jaleen Sims

Dr. Jaleen Sims is an OBGYN with the Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center.

“If they don’t have care even in the first trimester, it actually makes it very difficult for their obstetrician to manage their high blood pressure or diabetes or their lupus symptoms and things like that. So, it just becomes a ripple effect as you move through the pregnancy and sometimes can end up with the preterm birth and low birth rate.”

Health officials say the first issue contributing to the great divide is the lack of local providers as well as the limited number of clinics and hospitals in southern rural areas like Issaquena County.

“As you can see these doors are locked, but this was once a thriving clinic in this community,” said Mayersville Mayor Linda Williams-Short. Williams-Short says the town’s only clinic closed three months ago.

“We have had several mothers to have their babies in the car due to the fact they couldn’t get the provider they need to,” she revealed.

And then there is the highly debated Medicaid expansion funding that the state has refused. If accepted, Mississippi would pay 10 percent of the program’s costs and the federal government would pay for the rest.

“Certainly, now there are talks being of increasing the match and that buy-in wouldn’t be as much in Mississippi, it makes it more appealing or at least it should,” said Sen. Angela Turner-Ford.

Turner-Ford says not accepting the money only widens the healthcare gap: “We want to make sure we have quality health care available to all parts of Mississippi.”

The senator along with these health officials are pleased to hear that lawmakers are discussing a bill to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage beyond 60 days to support improve maternal and child health.

“It is very important that we have the ability so the mother can be taken care of a year after childbirth because often times we lose the mother, and it is not fair for her to have a baby that lost the mother,” said Dr. Gupta.

They say the time is now eliminate health disparities before things get worse.

“That is where health equality comes into play, there are some people who need a little bit more to get to the same playground,” said Sims.

“We feel like the people in our communities are just as important as anyone else, and we need the proper healthcare,” said Short.

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