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Torres Small focuses on maternal health in rural areas

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Legislation to reduce the rate of pregnancy-related deaths among new and expectant mothers in rural communities was recently introduced by New Mexico U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

The Rural Maternal Obstetric Modernization of Services Act, also known as Rural MOMS Act, was introduced Sept. 9 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Torres Small, a Democrat who represents New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, is lead sponsor of the legislation to expand access to prenatal and postpartum health services for women in geographically remote areas.

In a telephone conference call about the bill, Torres Small said it has garnered bipartisan support from members of the U.S. House who have signed on as cosponsors.

According to information from the Centers for Disease Control — which defines pregnancy-related death as the death of a woman while she is pregnant or within one year of the end of a pregnancy — the maternal mortality rate has been on the rise, from 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1987 to 17.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015.

The United States has some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, Torres Small said, and added that she has heard about the problem a lot in her predominately rural district, where there is often a shortage of OB-GYNs and health resources for women.

As a result women are often forced to travel far from home and many times out of state for medical appointments.

“It is incredibly difficult if you are getting ready to have a child, to have to travel two hours across state lines for every single prenatal appointment,” Torres Small said.

The Rural MOMS Act, if passed, would encourage midwives, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and others in pregnancy-related medical positions in rural communities and allow birth and post-natal medical services to be covered through Telehealth grants.

She added little data is available on pregnancy-related illnesses and other provisions in the bill require the collection of more data based on geography and other potential factors that lead to pregnancy-related illnesses and deaths.

The legislation would also require data that is collected to be used in a report that would identify shortfalls in maternity care and come up with recommendations for better maternal medical care in rural areas.

The bill will next go to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Torres Small said she and other lawmakers are waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to come back with an estimate of how much the legislation would cost to implement, but says it is something that is worth the money.

“… It is an important investment for the future of our country and if we can find places like this, where it is worth the investment for the future of rural communities or the health and life of women who are having children, I think we can all agree it is something worth doing,” she said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.