Maternity care telehealth program in rural New Mexico runs out of money : Shots - Health News A federal program in remote New Mexico has helped hundreds of pregnant mothers stay healthy, but it's running out of time and money despite a growing national maternity care crisis.

This telehealth program is a lifeline for New Mexico's pregnant moms. Will it end?

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Across the country, rural towns are losing their labor and delivery care, leaving pregnant women to drive farther for prenatal checkups. They often miss crucial early appointments. For the last few years, a federal program has used telehealth to fill in the gaps, but funding for that is drying up in parts of the country. Sarah Jane Tribble traveled to a remote area in northeastern New Mexico where the community worries about losing this care.

SARAH JANE TRIBBLE, BYLINE: Cloie Davila is about 13 weeks pregnant. At first, she feared it was going to take a 3 1/2 hour round-trip drive to see her doctor. That would have meant driving past dormant volcanoes. There are snowcapped Rockies in the distance and lots of cattle ranches, a landscape so wide open it looks like something from a movie set.

CLOIE DAVILA: Like, if I would have to travel out of town all the time, like, with gas and kids and everything, I just - work - having to miss work all the time.

TRIBBLE: But before she ever had to make that long drive, she spotted a billboard for a telehealth program at her local hospital. Davila lives in Clayton, N.M., near family - her dad, aunts, uncles and cousins. Her home town is remote, only about 2,800 people in the northeastern corner of the state. The hospital here stopped delivering babies more than a decade ago. But with the telehealth program, Davila is still able to get her maternity care right here. She sits on a white papered exam table facing a large computer screen. The staff dials up a doctor at a labor and delivery hospital 80 miles north.

TIMOTHY BRININGER: Hello, everybody. How are you guys doing?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Good. How are you?

TRIBBLE: Timothy Brininger is a family practice doctor who also delivers babies. They chat about Davila's due date, and he reassures her about her nausea.

BRININGER: Fingers are crossed that you're, like, at the end stage of it.

TRIBBLE: It's also the end stage for the telehealth program that made this visit possible. The nearly $3 million federal grant runs out of time and money at the end of August. The grant was used to coordinate telehealth visits and provide equipment. It also employed community health workers who connect moms to social services like transportation and buying baby formula. Rhonda Moniot is the chief nursing officer at the hospital one county over where Davila plans to deliver. Moniot has watched the program since the beginning.

RHONDA MONIOT: When I read the final, like, all of the information, I was very surprised. I was like, oh, my God. Like, it really made a difference.

TRIBBLE: Over two years, the percentage of mothers at her hospital who missed prenatal appointments in their first trimester dropped from 41% to 25%. Nationwide, more than 5,000 women have received medical care using the program.

COLLEEN DUROCHER: Let's not let it die.

TRIBBLE: That's Colleen Durocher, the program director in New Mexico. She says the grant has kept mothers and their babies connected to medical care.

DUROCHER: And it would be a real waste to let those successes just end.

TRIBBLE: More than half the rural counties across the country lack obstetrics care. Low payments from Medicaid and staffing shortages have taken a toll on health care access in rural America. In New Mexico, over half the counties have limited or no obstetrics units. As Cloie Davila's telehealth visit ends, the exam room is filled with laughter.


TRIBBLE: Davila, her nurse practitioner and Dr. Brininger are thinking back to when she first came in and asked for a pregnancy test.

DAVILA: I just wanted to make sure, make sure.

BRININGER: I understand wanting to make sure, make sure. That's so much fun. You guys trying to get pregnant, then?



TRIBBLE: Davila's baby is due in early September. She could be one of the last moms to benefit from the program. I'm Sarah Jane Tribble in Clayton, N.M.


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