Millions of Americans live in maternity care deserts. Access continues to worsen, report shows.

The number of women struggling to access to maternal care in the U.S. continues to grow, with nearly 7 million women affected by areas of no to low access, according to a new report released Tuesday by March of Dimes.

The nonprofit organization’s 2022 report shows 1,119 counties qualify as maternity care deserts, marking a 2% increase from the 2020 report or an additional 15,933 women who have no maternity care.

March of Dimes defines maternity care deserts as “any county in the United States without a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care and without any obstetric providers.”

In total, the report found that 36% of U.S. counties were designated as maternity care deserts. Of those maternity care deserts, 61% were rural counties.

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And up to 6.9 million women, as well as almost 500,000 births are affected by areas of no to low access, the report found, a 5% increase in counties with less maternity access since 2020.

The report classified counties as having low access to maternity care if there was one or less hospital offering obstetrics services, and fewer than 60 obstetricians per 10,000 births. Counties were also considered to have low access to maternity care if the proportion of women without health insurance was 10% or more.

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Ohio shows biggest reduction in access to maternal care; Florida the biggest improver

Nearly every state in the 2022 report had a county that was considered a maternity care desert, with the highest prevalence in Midwestern and Southern states.

Of all the states, March of Dimes found that Ohio had the most women impacted by overall reductions in access to care, and Florida had the most women impacted by improvements to maternity care access.

COVID impacted maternity care

After March of Dimes released its last report in 2020, the pandemic “certainly” brought on challenges to maternity care across the U.S., the organization notes.

“The challenges faced by the health care community have created additional gaps and challenged maternal care providers to find creative ways to continue to provide quality care,” the report reads. “We must continue to work to amend the obvious disparities in care experienced throughout the U.S.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Maternity care deserts: March of Dimes report shows worsening access

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