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Study: Jefferson County needs more equitable prenatal care

Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

Several community organizations in Louisville partnered to study gaps in equitable access to prenatal care in Jefferson County, with the hopes of empowering parents and improving outcomes. 

The recently published study was conducted through a collaboration between the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness and its Health Equity Center, Metro United Way and the Ready for K Alliance

Through interviews and focus groups, researchers gathered input from 34 parents who had either delivered babies or accessed prenatal care in Jefferson County. 

The goal was to learn about obstacles to care, specifically among Black, immigrant and refugee parents. 

Overall, most participants reported positive experiences with prenatal care, but Black parents were more likely to report negative experiences like poor communication and gaps in their continuum of care. Nineteen of the 34 respondents were Black.

Some Black parents also reported “quite severe experiences with medical providers,” according to the study, including feeling that they couldn’t express concerns or that physical issues including pain weren't taken seriously. 

Trey Allen, an epidemiologist with the Metro health department, helped conduct the interviews. He said it was important to capture stories of how parents experience local health systems, “so that we can mobilize and act on them. And try to make our health care systems and prenatal and pregnancy care systems reflective of the needs of the community that they are intended to serve.”

The study pointed to U.S vital statistics from 2016 that showed demographics made a difference in accessing early prenatal care. White parents in their 30s were the most likely to receive that early care, compared to younger parents and people of color. 

Close to 90% of those using private insurance got prenatal care, compared to close to 70% of those using Medicaid. 

Leanne French, an administrator at Louisville Metro's Center for Health Equity, said it’s important to understand why people have barriers, and work to address those. 

“What I've seen working with providers, the assumption is that people who don't uptake prenatal care early are flawed in some way,” she said. “The narrative was that the individuals were at fault. And my sense was that – and certainly we believe that at the Center for Health Equity – is that in fact it’s systems that aren't supportive.”

She said the study is a good jumping-off point, to engage and advocate for parents, “to listen to the community and their voice and let them lead as much as possible.”

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.