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How Houston doctors are working to combat maternity-care deserts

HOUSTON – Having a child is a momentous occasion, but complications leading up to birth can be nerve-wracking, especially for parents who do not live near specialized medical care.

That was the case for the Brown family.

At just 28 weeks while pregnant with triplets, Stacey Brown had to be flown from College Station to The Texas Medical Center in Houston.

“Twelve hours after I got there, they said what they were doing wasn’t working, so, ‘We think we need to deliver these babies,’” Brown said.

Her babies ended up being 11 ½ weeks early with each newborn weighing a little over three pounds.

It was a scary and trying time for the family who already had two other children. Over the next 72 days, their lives would become a juggling act between College Station and Houston.

“I would take one day a week to go down to the (neonatal intensive care unit) because the NICU would only let the siblings in for 20 minutes at a time,” said Eric Brown.

The Browns said they were connected with the March of Dimes while they were in the hospital and were provided with great resources.

What is a maternity-care desert?

The March of Dimes Maternity Care Deserts report looks at areas where mothers don’t have much access to obstetrics care.

According to the report, expectant mothers and babies in Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Brazoria counties have access to the appropriate health care. However, outside of those five counties, there’s less access, especially in rural areas.

The data looks at the number of hospitals that provide obstetrics services, the number of obstetrics providers and the number of women without health insurance.

Filling the gap

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is working with physicians in rural areas to help fill the health care gap.

“Our maternal fetals do a good job building relationships with those doctors so they feel comfortable enough to be able to consult if they need them or to be able to go to any of our sister hospitals,” said Sandra Uribe, the maternal-fetal medicine navigator at Children’s Memorial Hermann.

Uribe said any of the nine sister facilities can transfer patients to the Texas Medical Center location if needed, where the most critical babies and mothers can be treated.

Telemedicine has also been a game-changer for patients who live in rural areas. It cuts down on the number of times they have to drive to a clinic.

“A lot of these patients in these desert areas who have these complications we are very familiar with, such as diabetes or hypertension, this allows them because they have so many appointments as is to work with their physician over telehealth,” said Paige Del Castillo, of Memorial Hermann Hospital.

There’s an app for that

The March of Dimes has launched the My NICU Baby app that is available for families with babies in any NICU. Click/tap here for more information.


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