JACKSON, Miss. — There is a lot of pressure on emergency personnel to prevent and to save, but in rural America, those responding don't always have vast experience, especially when it comes to pregnant and birthing people.
"So, we take care of a lot of people that live in rural communities. There are a lot of emergency medicine departments that don't have obstetrics available," said Dr. Tara Lewis, who currently works in emergency medicine.
From 2004 to 2014, 9% of rural US counties lost all hospital obstetric services, leaving slightly more than half of rural counties without any help. Dr. Rachael Morris and her team are trying to change this starting with a solution in her state of Mississippi.
"What is scary though is that these problems aren't getting any better," Dr. Morris said.
"There's a big desert of health care in our state," Dr. Lewis said.
"Over 50 counties in Mississippi don't have obstetric-trained providers," Dr. Morris said. "Pregnant mothers and their newborns are dying. This is not anything unique to Mississippi; we have huge issues with maternal morbidity and mortality across the country. We're one great example where access to care makes a difference."
The University of Mississippi Medical Center is providing both classroom-style and real-life scenario instruction to emergency responders, nurses and providers in small rural hospitals to prepare them for emergency situations pertaining to pregnant people and their babies. The training's short name is STORK. They use high-tech simulation tools to create real-life, pressure-filled situations for those learning.
We asked Dr. Morris what the most common mistake is when people don't know how to properly care for the pregnant person and their baby in an emergency. She explains they panic. That's why whether it's someone's first time learning or a refresher, Emily Wells, a nurse practitioner on the neonatal transport team, says this training provides them with a level of crucial preparedness that could lead to life-saving measures.
"It's seconds really. The second that you're able to realize something's wrong with a mom, if you can intervene quickly, you can save that mom and baby so it's truly seconds," Wells said.
"UMC has actually been a fantastic resource to the state because we have our neonatal team that can go out and pick patients up. We have our air care team that can mobilize and be at those small community hospitals," Dr. Lewis said.
Dr. Lewis started her career in obstetrics and then made her move to emergency medicine.
"We have people on a daily basis that get transferred from two and a half hours away," Dr. Lewis said.
She sees the direct impact distance and time can have when it comes to birthing situations and lack of experience adds to the concern.
"Some may only have two ambulances in their entire county that covers a 60-mile span," Dr. Lewis said.
In the US, about 24 people are dying per 100,000 live births, which makes this country an outlier among other industrialized nations. Our maternal mortality rate is several times higher than in other high-income countries.
"It's getting at that training that brings people a level of comfort, maybe a level of muscle memory where they know the steps to try and prevent ya know an unnecessary emergency," Dr. Morris said.
This is already saving Mississippians, but on a larger scale, it stands to benefit even more families.