In North Carolina, women are going to great lengths to give birth. Access to maternity wards continues to dwindle as hospitals close or scale back.

Hospital access for pregnant women is particularly acute in rural parts of North Carolina. WUNC reports that for some, access to hospitals involves criss-crossing the mountains and often traveling across state lines. 

Though no issue as complex as maternal health care has a simple solution, there is an easy step to be taken that would put health care in rural North Carolina on the right track without using additional state tax dollars: expand Medicaid.

Dr. Alison Stuebe, a UNC Chapel Hill professor and physician, told WUNC that, “If we want rural hospitals to stay open in North Carolina, one very simple policy fix is to enact Medicaid expansion, because then hospitals would be able to afford to operate.”

She adds that rural maternity ward closures increase the risk of childbirth because more people opt for deliveries outside the hospital. “If there’s a problem where one needs a C-section or needs pediatric help to resuscitate a sick baby, those services aren’t in a small hospital without a labor and delivery unit. So that’s riskier for everybody involved.”

In North Carolina, Medicaid expansion has long been a priority for Governor Roy Cooper and his administration. One of only 14 states that have not yet used available federal funding to expand coverage, North Carolina’s Republican leaders have opted against what would be a lifeline for rural hospitals and the communities they serve. 

Read more about the difficult path to giving birth in North Carolina for some women.