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Growing concerns about maternal health crisis in New Mexico

Searchlight New Mexico's health reporter Vanessa Sánchez talks with Anthony Moreno about her reporting into the maternal health crisis in New Mexico.

Anthony Moreno: Vanessa, your investigation looked into maternal health deserts. Can you give us an understanding of just how many Women's Health clinics have closed their doors?

Vanessa Sánchez: So, we know that in 2022, two hospitals, one in Gallup, Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital and another in Las Vegas, Alta Vista, Regional Hospital, permanently closed their maternity wards, and there's some smaller clinics, for example, in Clovis, this clinic that was offering women services and women's Health services for several years, and because they couldn't find newer staff to hire, they were forced to shut down a clinical was operating for almost 30 years. In that area and then in my conversations with different providers, this is midwives and also of obstetricians and advocates. They were saying that because of financial constraints, it's been really hard for them to hire new providers in these areas, now we call them maternal health deserts. And the reason why it's really hard to find providers is not only because some people might not want to move to very rural areas, but it's also because the obstetric services are really pricey and the reimbursement rates are very low and we need to understand that in New Mexico every year 20,000 women give birth and 65% of those birds are covered by Medicaid. But the reimbursement rates from Medicaid are very low to that point that for some providers, it's just impossible to sustain their services and some of them are forced to, like I said, shut down or reduce operations or work for big hospitals in Albuquerque or Santa Fe.

Anthony Moreno: Not having these services, can you give us an understanding about just how dangerous that may be?

Vanessa Sánchez: Yeah, so one of the things that we found is that because these services don't exist and because women are forced to travel long distances for those who don't have transportation, it's just impossible to go to to go anywhere and what happens is that many women delay prenatal care in the first time that they see a doctor is the day that they are delivering the baby, and I spoke with a provider that UNMH, which is the largest hospital in New Mexico, and they were saying that they're receiving increasingly more women have high-risk pregnancy, and this is a result of them not having any prenatal care and or not having clinic or some provider nearby, and of course, that has increased the number of deaths, but also the number of women who get injured during the pregnancy so we know that between 2015 and 2018, 1377 women died during the pregnancy or within a year of giving birth, and some of these deaths are related to not having access to services on time.

Anthony Moreno: What sort of investments do experts say are needed to address this issue?

Vanessa Sánchez: So one of the things has to do with increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rate, so providers can actually stay afloat with their businesses and the other thing is increasing services in rural areas, but this doesn't necessarily mean opening new hospitals, but instead looking for different models of care and I think that Las Cruces is going to become one of those places with the new model that they notice, and Governor Lujan Grisham recently gave a group of organizations $10 million so they can open a new full spectrum clinic in and the advocates who are working on opening these clinics that they don't want to create this model of just having enough obstatricians and, you know, risk of losing them in the process, but they want to instead have a team of obstetricians, midwives, mental health providers, others, and breastfeeding providers so they can work together to provide all of these services that pregnant women need. And I think that one of the things has to do with kind of shifting the model and the other is investing more in solutions to reduce maternal mortality and maternal mobility. Which right now advocates and even some government officials say, is now priority, and that is the problem is that is not in the conversation is really hard to fix a problem that is not out there in the public.

Anthony Moreno: Vanessa Sanchez is a health reporter with Searchlight New Mexico. Vanessa, thank you so much for sharing your reporting on this issue with us.

Anthony Moreno serves as the Director of Content at KRWG Public Media. He also is host and executive producer for "Fronteras-A Changing America" and "Your Legislators" on KRWG-TV.