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Senator Collins, Bipartisan Group Introduce Legislation to Improve Women’s Health Care in Rural Areas

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins, Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Katie Britt (R-AL), and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation to provide support for rural health care facilities to provide urgent obstetric care. Their bill, the Rural Obstetrics Readiness Act, would help prepare rural hospitals and practitioners to handle the obstetric emergencies that come through their doors as more delivery units, particularly those in rural areas, are being forced into close.

Between 2011 and 2021, more than 260 rural hospitals in the U.S. shut down their obstetrics services, representing one in four of the nation’s rural obstetric units. In Maine, almost one-third of hospitals in rural Maine have closed their obstetric units in the past 15 years. Nationally, this trend has left more than 2 million women in a maternity care desert, meaning that they live in a county without a provider offering obstetric care such as labor and delivery. This can lead to longer driving times for care and increased health risks.

"The closure of labor and delivery units in rural Maine and throughout the nation is an urgent issue that threatens the health and safety of mothers and babies," said Senator Collins. "By creating new opportunities to improve obstetric readiness in rural communities through skills training, workforce development, and telehealth partnerships, this bipartisan legislation would help reduce care gaps and better ensure that more rural Maine communities have access to the maternal care they need.”

Specifically, the Rural Obstetrics Readiness Act would provide new opportunities for rural health care facilities to respond to obstetric emergencies by:

  1. Directing the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health to create an obstetric emergency training program for rural health care facilities that do not have a dedicated labor and delivery unit;
  2. Supporting rural health care facilities with the purchase of necessary equipment to manage obstetric emergencies and develop a workforce prepared to respond;
  3. Creating a pilot program to support a statewide or regional network of obstetric and maternal health care teams that can provide urgent teleconsultation to rural facilities; and
  4. Directing HHS to study maternity ward closures, regional patterns of patient transport, and models for regional partnerships for rural obstetric care.

The bill is endorsed by the National Rural Health Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Academy of Family Practitioners, American Society of Anesthesiologists, and the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs.

Improving access to health care in rural areas has been a focus of Senator Collins’ efforts throughout her Senate service. In March, Senator Collins secured $2,397,000 in Congressionally Directed Spending for projects that will help to improve access to health care throughout Maine in the Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill.  Congress has passed the bill, and the President has signed it into law. 

A one-pager on this legislation is available here. Full text of this legislation is available here.