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How the health divide impacts the infant mortality rate in North Carolina’s rural areas

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 9:19 AM EDT
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published March 12, 2021 at 12:35 PM EST on wbtv.com)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Great Health Divide) - CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - One aspect of the health divide in America is impossible to ignore. The loss of babies.

Nationally, the infant mortality rate is 5.7 percent for every 1,000 live births.

In Caldwell County it’s 7.2 percent and in Burke County it’s 7.6 percent.

State numbers show more than 90 percent of infant deaths can be traced back to perinatal conditions.

This pertains to things that are happening before, during and after birth, including but not limited to:

  • Maternal health issues
  • Access to prenatal care
  • Use of tobacco or alcohol
  • Proper sleep habits for the baby

Education and access to care that can make a difference in those areas can be hard to come by in many rural areas.

One place looking to make a difference is the Pregnancy Care Center of Burke County.

Mother Cora Price spoke on how the center has made a difference in her life as she’s dealing with different health conditions while raising a child.

“I had gestational diabetes really bad and I’ve also got epilepsy, so the baby’s health was a really big concern of mine,” Price said

“He was born safe. His sugar was normal. The prenatal care - really what helped me a lot was coming here,” Price said about the Pregnancy Care Center.

Miranda Boughman from the Pregnancy Care Center of Burke County, spoke to what the center is all about.

“We are a ministry that provides all types of services to families in Burke County. We do everything from pregnancy testing and ultrasounds. We provide educational classes, we get them involved in our educational programs and through that they earn free baby supplies,” Boughman said.

“I was able to get a changing table, a car seat and stuff that like was really needed,” mother Cora Price said.

“With people being laid off from jobs and things like that, of course material supplies are necessary. But also COVID has brought a lot of disconnect, so we are trying to bring more connection to families and just remind them that they are supported and that they have people in their corner and knowing what to expect when you are pregnant or when you have a newborn,” Boughman said. “Burke County itself is 515 square miles and so we are spread out from one end to another - it could take you a little bit to get there. And so we do see a lot of families who have transportation issues, they don’t have a vehicle and they can’t come to us.”

“Most people now, their phones are tight. It does cost to go to the doctor and sometimes they’re not always able to get there - from the vehicle transportation to just not knowing what to do,” Price said.

“Poverty is definitely one of the top concerns in our area, and especially since COVID-19, people have been losing jobs and they’re struggling more,” Boughman said. “Families in Burke County need to know that they are supported, that their loved and that they have somebody in their corner to help them”

It really does come down to having that support - and the resources.

Earlier this week we spoke with Dr. Shetul Patel. He works for Atrium Health’s Children’s Clinic in Shelby.

He is also on the state’s child fatality task force. Together, they work on ways to stop child fatalities in North Carolina.

He says there isn’t one single theme or cause for infant mortalities, but there is one important solution - education. Everybody has a role to play.

“I know on my front, we educate every time we come in for infant checkups. The school system gives out information to parents there. The Health Department has high-risk maternal groups where they do prenatal care and they’re educating before the infant is even born. We’re trying to spread the word as much as we can, even in terms of of car seat safety. The local fire department, and Safe Kids. These are all programs in the community that can help reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome) related car seat deaths. So I think the key here is just education at every opportunity possible in breaking a mirror that may exist, whether that be from misinformation, from social media or just information received from other family members that may not be accurate,” Dr. Patel said.

So how does this work in our rural counties? Those counties in the Appalachia area? Are we focusing on them enough?

“Health care systems are always looking at ways to get access to care, especially in rural areas. I think Atrium Health has done a fantastic job as far as trying to reach these further outlying areas, I know our Levine Children’s Atrium Health line spans from Albemarle, North Carolina all the way to Rutherfordton, North Carolina. So I mean we definitely span a great distance when it comes to our state. Could we do better? I think I think the answer to that is always,” Dr. Patel said.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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