OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Maternity care deserts cover the state of Oklahoma.
March of Dimes published a new report that highlighted 41 counties in Oklahoma that are labeled “maternity care deserts.” There are 77 total counties in Oklahoma.
The counties shaded in red are without hospitals with obstetric care, birth centers, and OB/GYNs.
“We’ve got to continue to expand those services so that someone’s not driving 5 hours from the panhandle or 2 hours from Stephens County,” said Jessica Garvin, Republican state senator from Duncan.
She represents four counties. All are without “full access” and two are considered deserts.
The senator said a doctor in her district stopped delivering babies 20 years ago because of the state’s tort laws.
“He had a lawsuit of a young woman who had a stillborn baby,” said Garvin, explaining that the case was a wrongful death suit that the doctor eventually won. But added that the threat of a lawsuit reduces services that doctors were once willing to perform because of the potential negative impact on their business.
“We have no cap on wrongful death in the state of Oklahoma,” said the senator from Duncan.
Instead, Garvin prefers a more encouraging approach. An approach that Senator Carri Hicks tried to take in 2021.
Hicks, a state senator from Oklahoma City, authored a bill that would incentivize hospitals to offer obstetrical care.
“I think we would start to see a drastic difference in the quality of care for women,” said Hicks.
The senator from OKC said she has prioritized women’s health issues since entering office. She is finishing up a four-year term this year; her reelection is in November.
A concern for Hicks when she read the report from March of Dimes is the economic impact of hours-long trips to see a doctor.
“If individuals are having to take off work in order to go for their prenatal and healthy checkups throughout their pregnancy, they’re having to take full days off of work and away from their employer in order to take care of their babies,” said the senator from OKC.
Dr. Dana Stone has patients that Hicks described.
“Me and my partners all regularly see patients that drive from as far away as Woodward. We see patients from Elk City,” said Stone, who practices in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma County is one of 16 counties that have full access to maternity care.
Stone said that driving hours to see a doctor is hard work for mothers that are approaching their delivery dates.
“We see patients every four weeks at first and then start seeing them every two weeks, about halfway through and then every week the last month of their pregnancy,” said Dr. Stone.
Senator Garvin has a four-year term with two years left to serve. She said that her constituents should expect to see legislation in next year’s session that are designed to help mothers and women in Oklahoma.
“I want to use that time, the two years that I have left, to make big leaps and bounds of changes for women in the state,” said Garvin.