Special Report: Augusta University works to lower Georgia's maternal mortality rate

CSRA (WFXG) - Doctors at Augusta University are determined to keep pregnant women and new moms from dying across Georgia. The state currently has one the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation. This consists of women who are either pregnant or less than a year post-delivery.

"We're seeing patients in poorer health when they enter pregnancy, which will certainly make them more likely to have a pregnancy complication that could lead to maternal morbidity or mortality," said Dr. Chadburn Ray, an Ob-Gyn at Augusta University.

Causes of death could be blood loss, hypertension and even suicide. But a huge factor in these women dying is lack of medical care.

"There is a patient access problem. There are large pockets of rural communities that have limited access to care," said Dr. Ray.

There are 159 counties in Georgia. Of those, 79 do not have a labor and delivery center, and the majority lack OB care completely. In the CSRA alone 6 counties including Wilkes, McDuffie and Jefferson have little to no care at all for expecting moms.

"There are problems with workforce where there's fewer doctors to care for patients. Especially in Georgia where there's a growing need for women's health care," explained Dr. Ray.

Leaders at the Jefferson Hospital are working to make a change. Linda Randolph, a mid-wife from AU, travels to the Hospital to treat patients three days a week. She offers the only obstetrics care in the county.

One of her patients is Jefferson County resident Cheryl Wasson.

"This is my third year coming here, my third baby that I'll be coming through this hospital's pre-natal center. My first year with Linda, who I absolutely love. I've fallen in love with this woman," said Wasson.

Once Cheryl is closer to her delivery date she'll have to drive to Augusta for appointments. That's a nearly 40-minute drive.

She explained, "Being my 6th pregnancy, that's scary being so far away from Augusta. If my water does break at home and I'm by myself, that's scary."

Cheryl had a miscarriage about 12 years ago. The thought of having to drive to Augusta in an emergency now is tough to swallow.

"We have a hospital right here. But the care that we need isn't there," said Wasson.

Augusta University said they are working to get more medical care and health information to women in these communities. Dr. Ray said this is happening with their new Georgia Center for Obstetrics Re-Entry Program.

"Can you re-train a doctor who has not done obstetrics in a number of years, but is a board-certified gynecologist to do obstetrics once again?" said Dr. Ray

The answer is yes. Dr. Ray just launched the program last year. The goal is to get Gynecologists practicing Obstetrics in those communities that desperately need the care.

Gynecologist Dr. Janet Boon is the first to graduate the re-entry program. She took a break from Obstetrics to raise her children but is ready to practice again.

"I knew that I wanted to be refreshed in thinking about obstetrics management, and making sure that I had learned anything that changed in the time that I had been away. Any advances that had been made, any new equipment that had been brought to the markets" explained Dr. Boon.

The program only takes a few months and is funded by the state. Dr. Ray is working to get more doctors through the program. The next closest re-entry programs like this one at Augusta University are in Texas and Pennsylvania.

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