Loss of Obstetric Services in Rural Appalachia: A Qualitative Study of Community Perceptions
Background: As rural hospitals across the United States increasingly downsize or close, the availability of inpatient obstetric services continues to decline in rural areas. In rural Appalachia, the termination of obstetric services threatens to exacerbate the existing risk of adverse birth outcomes for women and infants, yet less is known about how the cessation of these services affects the broader community.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explain how the loss of local obstetric services affects perceptions of healthcare among multi-generational residents of a remote, rural Appalachian community in western North Carolina.
Methods: An interdisciplinary team of researchers conducted a thematic analysis of health-related oral history interviews (n=14) that were collected from local residents of a rural, western North Carolina community during the summer of 2019.
Results: The closure of a local hospital’s labor and delivery department fostered 1) frustration with the decline in hospital services, 2) perceived increases in barriers to accessing healthcare, and 3) increased medical mistrust.
Implications: Findings suggest that the loss of obstetric services in this rural Appalachian community could have broad, negative health implications for all residents, regardless of their age, sex, or ability to bear children. Community-specific strategies are needed to foster trust in the remaining healthcare providers and to increase access to care for local residents. Results serve as formative research to support the development of interventions and policies that effectively respond to all community members’ needs and concerns following the loss of obstetric services in remote Appalachian communities.
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Efird CR, Dry D, Seidman RF. Loss of Obstetric Services in Rural Appalachia: A Qualitative Study of Community Perceptions. J Appalach Health 2021;3(2):4–17. DOI: https://doi.org/10.13023/jah.0302.02
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