TULSA, Okla. – On Monday, Nov. 4, the Community Service Council’s (CSC) Healthy Start and Healthy Women, Healthy Futures Oklahoma programs received the much anticipated 2019 March of Dimes Report Card, which reveals annual data about the health of Tulsa County moms and babies.
Both CSC programs, which partner with the March of Dimes, focus on improving birth outcomes among disadvantaged and marginalized populations in Tulsa. Data from the report is a critical part of the programs’ strategy development each year.
However, this year’s report revealed a sobering truth. In 2019, Tulsa had the highest rate of premature births the county has seen in five years at 11.3%, earning a D- rating by the March of Dimes.
Since 2002, over 1,000 Tulsa County babies have been born too soon each year, or approximately one of every nine babies. While premature births are increasing nationally, for the past 15 years, Tulsa County rates have consistently been higher than both state and national rates.
“Premature births and congenital anomalies are the two major factors contributing to infant mortality in Oklahoma,” said Dr. Su Phipps, Program Director for CSC’s Healthy Women, Healthy Futures Oklahoma program. “To improve maternal-child birth outcomes and reduce infant mortality, we must first start with making sure moms are healthy prior to pregnancy. A woman who is unhealthy has an increased risk of having a baby that is born too soon, which can lead to many health issues for the infant, mother and the family.”
The main social determinants associated with preterm births are poverty among women ages 15-44, lack of health insurance among women ages 15-44, and inadequacy of prenatal care.
CSC also looks closely at data in the March of Dimes report card related to racial disparities in maternal and infant health. This year the report revealed another grim truth: the preterm birth rate among black women in Oklahoma is 38% higher than the rate among all other women.
“The report highlights on a national level what we already knew at CSC: that we are in a maternal and infant health crisis in Oklahoma, especially among black women and babies,” said Corrina Jackson, Program Director for CSC’s Healthy Start. “Our team at CSC is working to make sure all moms have adequate access to health and prenatal care so that our babies are born healthy and strong. It is unacceptable that the U.S. is one of the most dangerous of developed nations to give birth, even more so if you are a black woman in Oklahoma.”
In 2018, CSC’s Healthy Start team became acutely aware from their own data that black women were suffering the highest rates of infant mortality. The program elected to increase their service area to reach more black women in an effort to reduce preterm births and infant mortality. The program currently serves 19 ZIP codes in Tulsa that have infant mortality rates at least 1.5 the national average.
In addition to the health risks associated with premature births, and the increased risk for infant mortality, there are also economic issues for our community. The cost of each premature birth in Oklahoma is $52,045. With over 1,000 premature births occurring in Tulsa County each year, the total cost for premature infants alone approximates $53,502,260 per year.
Despite the concerning data in the March of Dimes report, CSC and its programs see opportunities to reverse this trend and improve Tulsa’s birth outcomes and mother’s health through their existing efforts to increase women’s access to health care and to provide health education, outreach, care coordination and referral services.
Additionally, CSC recommends expanding Medicaid coverage for women to at least one year postpartum and supporting Oklahoma’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee efforts.
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