Losing Babies

Fort Worth leads the state in a sad statistic: infant mortality.
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Posted March 27, 2013 by BY SARAH ANGLE | Photos by Tony Robles in News

Jodie’s baby Kamryn is healthy and happy, thanks in part to the help Jodie received from Healthy Start, a federally funded program operated by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth. The program provides high-risk, low-income women with job placement assistance, lessons on healthy living, and general information on caring for a newborn. It follows them through their pregnancies and for two years after their babies are born.

Without programs like Healthy Start, Tarrant County’s statistics would be even grimmer.

Henderson: “Any opportunity to counsel a pregnant woman on lifestyle changes is important.”

Henderson: “Any opportunity to counsel a pregnant woman on lifestyle changes is important.”

Between 2009 and 2010, only 52 percent of pregnant mothers in Tarrant County received prenatal care during their first trimester. Those three months are critical: Proper medical care then can help prevent premature births — the most common reason for newborn deaths in Tarrant County, according to the county report. Early care also gives doctors the chance to detect and treat sexually transmitted infections before the fetus is affected and to counsel women on the need to take prenatal vitamins and stop smoking, drinking, or using other harmful drugs during their pregnancies.

“It takes hearing it over and over again for it to sink in and for a patient to do it,” said Dr. Elizabeth Henderson, pediatric physician with Baylor Colleyville Family Medicine. “Any opportunity to counsel a pregnant woman on lifestyle changes is important.”

But for low-income women, getting healthcare of any kind — including prenatal care — is getting harder. Almost half of all new mothers in Texas lack private health insurance.

In 2011, the Texas Legislature cut two-thirds of the funding from the state’s family planning program, leaving more than 130,000 women without access to preventive care and causing 55 clinics to close their doors, including 14 run by Planned Parenthood. The North Arlington clinic that closed had provided care to more than 4,000 patients in 2010.

When the legislature banned Planned Parenthood from receiving any support through the federally funded women’s health program, the federal government replied by cutting the state off from the program entirely. Texas then created its own women’s health program. Planned Parenthood, which supplied health services to about 50,000 Texas women last year, had been the single largest provider in the old program, serving 60 percent of the patients enrolled in the women’s program in 2011.

In 2004, about 15 percent of adults in Tarrant County told researchers they couldn’t afford to go to a doctor. By 2010, that percentage had risen to 18. During that time, the infant mortality rate was also rising. And that was before the end of the federally funded program.

Denise Gonder (standing) helps (left to right) Tiahna Tapp, Latoya Brice, and Sallie Hannie with resumé writing, in the Healthy Start program.

Denise Gonder (standing) helps (left to right) Tiahna Tapp, Latoya Brice, and Sallie Hannie with resumé writing, in the Healthy Start program.

According to Planned Parenthood, only three of Texas’ 254 counties had more women in need of publicly funded family planning services than Tarrant. More than 96,000 women in Tarrant County need healthcare services but are now less likely to get them.

“Good healthcare for poor people is hard to come by,” said Alexis, a mother of two from Fort Worth and a former member of the federally funded women’s healthcare program.

Alexis, 32, asked that only her first name be used. She had been going to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fort Worth for annual well-woman exams and birth control since her early 20s.

“I was really overweight, and I smoked a lot,” she said. When she went to Planned Parenthood for an annual exam, they said her blood pressure had reached a point where it was no longer safe to take birth control pills.

“So I just quit taking birth control,” she said. Alexis had an underlying medical condition that made getting pregnant difficult, so she didn’t think it would happen.

But it did. “I got pregnant right away,” she said. She was 23 — “young and stupid,” she said — and married to an alcoholic.

“They [Planned Parenthood] were trying to be very assuring and calming. I’m sure I was white as a ghost” when she got the news, Alexis said.

With the help of Planned Parenthood, she found a doctor and got her pregnancy off to a healthy start.

Although Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer prenatal care, it does provide pregnancy testing and counseling, prenatal vitamins, screening for gestational diabetes, and referrals for further pregnancy care, in addition to providing cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted infections. In 2011, Planned Parenthood performed about 390,000 tests for sexually transmitted infections throughout Texas.

In January, State Rep. Lon Burnam had his office staffers contact 104 providers in and near Fort Worth who were listed with the new state-run Women’s Health Program. Staffers found that only 11 providers on the list would accept WHP patients, and only eight of those provided a full range of medical services. Since then, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has pulled down and revised its list.

A couple of months ago, Alexis did a little research of her own with the WHP providers online. People are being laid off at her workplace, and she’s worried about her future and her family’s health insurance. She wanted to see what it would be like if she had to depend on the new WHP.

She called 20 phone numbers before she found a doctor who could see her without a wait of two months, Alexis said.

“I’ve gone down the list of available doctors in my area, and a lot of them don’t take it [WHP coverage],” she said. “It’s some of the laziest list-making I’ve ever seen.”

Wells, the Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, said it was “outrageous that Texas lawmakers continue to play politics with women’s health.

“Already, 130,000 Texas women are going without basic preventive healthcare” because of the legislature’s funding cuts, she said. “If Planned Parenthood continues to be banned from the Texas Women’s Health Program, this will jeopardize healthcare access for tens of thousands more.”

When the state cuts back on public support for prenatal care for poor women, the result can be tantamount to Texas shooting itself in the foot, financially. The March of Dimes estimated in 2005, for instance, that a year of care for a full-term baby cost about $3,325. But the first year of care for a preemie runs almost 10 times that, or about $32,325. And early pregnancy care can help detect and treat conditions that lead to higher premature birth rates. With Texas having cut itself out of the federal women’s healthcare program, that means more of those costs end up being paid by Texas taxpayers.

Not that Texas makes it easy for poor women to obtain public health benefits like Medicaid.

“The state of Texas makes it relatively difficult … . You have to have a doctor’s note to verify pregnancy before you can go on Medicaid, which means you have to go somewhere and pay for a pregnancy test,” said Dr. G. Sealy Massingill, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at John Peter Smith Hospital. “And a lot of patients don’t go on Medicaid until the second or third trimester, so they’re not getting early access to care.

“At JPS we have signs that say ‘walk-in pregnancy test,’ ” Massingill said, so that poor women can get that first test that will let them know they need prenatal care and also put them on the road to qualifying for public health assistance.

For many poor women, Alexis said, getting to a doctor’s appointment is already complicated, requiring arrangements for child care, transportation, and time off from work. And if they have to drive long distances to find a provider, many women just won’t make the appointment, she said. “Time is a luxury that’s not afforded to people who can’t pay for it.”

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7 Comments


  1.  
    John Stoutimore

    “Losing Babies” began with Jodie’s plight. She was pregnant, poor, and in her second pregnancy. But she lost the baby because she couldn’t afford a doctor and didn’t know how to apply for Medicaid. By her third pregnancy, her problems were solved. Oh, she was still poor, but now she had taxpayer-provided prenatal care and everything turned out peachy.

    It’s fair to ask whether women who can’t afford prenatal care will be able to afford postnatal care. Will they be able to feed, house, and clothe their children? Or will taxpayers take care of that too by way of T.A.N.F., W.I.C., and Section 8?

    We as a nation cannot afford this any longer. The best solution is for Jodie to keep her pants on. She can’t procreate her way out of poverty.




    •  
      Heather

      You are a disgusting individual. Your comments are ignorant at best, and chauvinistic at worst.




    •  
      P

      I lost my daughter. And had insurance. Paid all my medical bills. Had trained professionals helping me. Nothing could save my daughter.
      Thinking that you would actually cover something worthwhile I picked this issue up. It’s all about uninsured infant deaths…..my sweet angel would have had ANY monitary care needed. And sure as hell had every bit of medical care. Yet still, she is gone.

      I go see her every night. Losing my daughter has shattered my world. Not only do I thank you for your poorly written article, but I thank you for;

      -not researching the actual issues.
      -picking only the side of a poor uninsured woman.
      -FOR YOUR COVER THAT DEPICTS OUR CHILDREN’S RESTING PLACE AS A VAMPIRE COFFIN.

      Women around the world are upset about the cover image. Mothers who have lost their children all the way in Kenya are nauseated by your choice of illustration.

      How about foot prints? An angel teddy bear? No no no a vampire coffin.

      Just so you know, my daughter along with everyone else’s child for the past 65 years have been buried in a rectangle casket. Just like everyone else. Smaller, but for the most part the same. Your choice to not think more about the fact, “if Fort Worth is one of the leaders in infant death, maybe all of these mothers and fathers would like to see a poorly drawn mock of their child’s casket…” makes me sick.

      You are obviously not a mother. Or your conscience would have stopped you from that cover.




    •  
      P

      I lost my daughter. And had insurance. Paid all my medical bills. Had trained professionals helping me. Nothing could save my daughter.
      Thinking that you would actually cover something worthwhile I picked this issue up. It’s all about uninsured infant deaths…..my sweet angel would have had ANY monitary care needed. And sure as hell had every bit of medical care. Yet still, she is gone.

      I go see her every night. Losing my daughter has shattered my world. Not only do I thank you for your poorly written article, but I thank you for;
      -not researching the actual issues.
      -picking only the side of a poor uninsured woman.
      -FOR YOUR COVER THAT DEPICTS OUR CHILDREN’S RESTING PLACE AS A VAMPIRE COFFIN.

      Women around the world are upset about the cover image. Mothers who have lost their children all the way in Kenya are nauseated by your choice of illustration.
      How about foot prints? An angel teddy bear? No no no a vampire coffin.
      Just so you know, my daughter along with everyone else’s child for the past 65 years have been buried in a rectangle casket. Just like everyone else. Smaller, but for the most part the same. Your choice to not think more about the fact, “if Fort Worth is one of the leaders in infant death, maybe all of these mothers and fathers would like to see a poorly drawn mock of their child’s casket…” makes me sick.
      You are obviously not a mother. Or your conscience would have stopped you from that cover.




  2.  
    John Stoutimore

    A classic liberal response. Heather deftly avoids the substance of her adversary’s argument by calling him names. She deserves a B-. Had she included more trendy terms such as ‘racist’ and ‘homophobe’ she would have rated an A.




    •  
      Skeptic

      I really dislaike it when the current media exploits a tragedy, throws a bunch of incongruent “facts/data” together and comes to an illogical erroneous conclusion (which conveniently conforms to their ideology). The young woman was a displaced person from the Katrina tradgedy 2005 (statistics show that a hurricane of that magnitude has occurred once in 80 years in N.O., the last being 1926- although other less significant hurricanes have occurred in the interval). The Tarrant county community- unfairly vilified in this “article” offered shelter and housing through (limited) federal assistance, and now has provided a tax funding base for many who are not supporting themsleves and choose to stay. There are of course too many unanswered questions here: The pregnancy occurred two years after the storm,-2007- so where was her family? Why didn’t she go back to more familiar surroundings? Why not contact the Feds who provided the initial monetary and other relief? Why not contact a religious or other charity organization and ask for help? Even assuming that she felt well and her aminiotic fluid was not leaking-where did she plan to give birth–at home? JPS? In order to stay here she must have been a participant in relief efforts, so why NOT familiarize yourself with Medicaid?
      Was there any planning going on? When she started to feel badly (or even suppected she was pregnant )why not just go to JPS or another ER-all hospitals treat the uninsured, which is one reason why standard helath insurance is so expensive. The Docs and their hospital facilities featured in the report have been around for many years. I do not know of anyone who has been turned away from JPS-even folks from other countries. If you want to be intellectually honest–you will see that Federal mortality data bases do not support the author’s conclusions regarding Tarrant county being the highest in infant mortality, although that sentiment has been used more than once in this publication to support FWW’s “guilt trip” agenda. You, John, are quite within your rights as a taxpayer or even as a normal citizen supporting the social compact, to ask: now what? The incessant urge to blame everyone else for one’s own problems is a road to nowhere…and the real crime against this young lady is that she is encouraged by the authors of this and similar pieces to futility waste her life blaming the community which reached out to help her.




  3.  
    Skeptic

    Sorry about the abundant typos, I hope that you get the point, however…





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