March of Dimes grades Georgia ‘F’ for poor maternal and infant health

Preterm births worsen in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Chatham counties.
AJC file

Credit: AJC file

Credit: AJC file

AJC file

Editor’s note: This report has been updated to reflect that the rate of infant mortality in Georgia for 2021 is expressed as deaths per 1,000 live births. Broken down by race, 10.8 Black babies died per 1,000 live births, twice as many as Hispanic babies at 5.4 per 1,000. For white babies, 4.9 babies died per 1,000 and 4.2 per 1,000 for Asian/Pacific Islander.

Pregnant women and infants in Georgia continue to have poorer health outcomes than most of the nation, data shows, reflecting severe racial inequities and conditions worsened by the pandemic.

The March of Dimes’ 2022 maternal and infant health report card, released last week, gives Georgia an “F” based on high rates of infant mortality, preterm births, inadequate prenatal care and low-risk Cesarean births.

For infant mortality, Georgia’s rate of 6.1 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2021 exceeded the national rate of 5.4 deaths per 1,000. Broken down by race, 10.8 Black babies per 1,000 died, twice as many as Hispanic babies at 5.4 per 1,000. The death rate per thousand for white babies was 4.9 and 4.2 for Asian/Pacific Islander babies.

Georgia’s preterm birth rate of 11.9% for 2021 was higher than the national rate of 10.5% and the highest for the state since 2007. Black women in Georgia had their babies prematurely at a rate of 14.7%, which was 47% higher than that of all other women in the state.

“Pre-existing health disparities are magnified and compounded due to this maternal and infant health crisis,” said Tamara Currin, the March of Dimes’ director of state government affairs in the Southeast region.

“We saw issues around low staffing, resource issues, pressure around patients’ length of stay in the hospital and fears that families faced in terms of wanting to seek in-person health care.”

Currin said pregnant women who were sickened by COVID-19 were at a higher risk for delivering their babies prematurely.

In 2021, Atlanta was among the top 100 cities in the United States for the number of live births, but the city also earned an “F” for maternal and infant health because of its high rate of 11.8 preterm births per 1,000 live births.

The six worst counties in Georgia for preterm births included five from metro Atlanta: Chatham, 14.0%; Clayton, 13.4%; Cobb, 10.5%; DeKalb, 11.1%; Fulton, 11.9% and Gwinnett, 10.5%. All six results were worse than the previous year.

Georgia also did not score well in the category of adequate prenatal care. Data showed 15.4% of women received inadequate prenatal care — meaning they received care starting in the fifth month of pregnancy or later, or fewer than half of the recommended visits based on the infant’s gestational age, according to the March of Dimes.

In a racial breakdown, the nonprofit said Hispanic mothers received inadequate prenatal care for 22.8% of live births; American Indian/Alaska Native mothers’ rate was 22.3%; Black mothers, 21.2% of live births; Asian/Pacific Islander, 14% and white, 11%.

Georgia does have a perinatal quality collaborative, which serves to identify and improve quality care issues in maternal and infant health care, and the state also allows for Medicaid reimbursement at 90% and above for certified nurse midwives. Those are two of the six policy measures recommended by the March of Dimes to improve health conditions.

State lawmakers have also extended Medicaid coverage for mothers post-pregnancy.

“For Georgia, one significant stride that has been reached recently is the passage of postpartum extension coverage to one full year postpartum,” Currin said. “Georgia has made great strides in moving that legislation into law.”

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