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Concerns raised over 'prenatal care deserts' in South Dakota

Centers for Disease Control

The South Dakota Department of Health officials say “prenatal care deserts” are contributing to a rise in the state’s infant mortality rate.

Secretary Melissa Magstadt updated legislators on the subject at the latest Government Operations and Audit Committee meeting.

The infant mortality rate measure the number of babies who die within the first year of life.

In 2020, South Dakota had a rate of 7.4 percent. Comparatively, the national infant mortality rate is 5.7 percent.

Concerns surrounding this issue in South Dakota are not new. Throughout the last decade, an Infant Mortality Committee within the state's Department of Health has investigated the causes of reported infant deaths. The committee discovered the highest risk factor of infant mortality is low education in the eastern part of the state and poverty in the west.

Magstadt cited an increase in congenital syphilis and safe sleep issues as causes for infant mortality rises. She said 80 percent of safe-sleep-related deaths happened when the child was sleeping in an adult bed, a crib not up to safety standards, a car seat, on a couch or chair.

Magstadt told legislatures some factors could be controlled.

“Those top ten leading causes of death are prenatal care, preventable for most of them, and habits of parenting afterwards, safe sleep being one of the number one impacts,” said Magstadt.

Sen. Jean Hunhoff noted some lawmakers visited Indian Health Services facilities during their annual tour of West River. She asked what was happening to fill the lack of maternal care services offered by IHS.

“There is an entire half of the state of South Dakota that has an OBGYN desert,” said Magstadt in response to Hunhoff’s question. “We have 66 OBGYNs in the state. And they don’t live in that part of the state. They are in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, mainly, and then they are sprinkled throughout, but we absolutely have a prenatal care desert.”

Currently, the DOH is engaged in a collaborative project with Avera Health to confront maternal care in rural areas. However, they had no results from the project to report to the committee.

In 2022, Avera was awarded a $4 million grant, called RMOMS. The grant addresses rural maternity care. It pays out $1 million annually over a four-year period.

Zadya Abbott (she/her/hers) is a senior at the University of South Dakota studying Media and Journalism with a minor in Women and Gender Sexuality Studies. She is native to the southeastern corner of South Dakota. Zadya regards the journalism profession as one of noble service meant to objectively provide the public with information of interest.