By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Citing a high infant mortality rate and lack of health care in the Black Belt, some state leaders are discussing the possibility of a midwifery program at Wallace State Community College in Selma.
State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, sponsored a resolution in the Legislature this year to create a commission to study the feasibility of a midwifery program at Wallace State. The commission's first meeting is Tuesday.
McClendon said this is a preliminary meeting but hopes it is the beginning of addressing the problem of maternal and infant mortality in Alabama’s underserved communities.
“We’ve ignored and done nothing about the infant mortality rate in the Black Belt and that is absolutely unforgivable,” McClendon told Alabama Daily News. “We’ve got babies dying. They’re not getting prenatal care, they may not have transportation and they just don’t have access.”
Midwives have only been allowed to practice legally in Alabama since 2017 but there are no schools in the state that teach midwifery practices. In order to get training, those looking to be midwives have to go out of state or take online classes.
Noel Leithart serves on the state board of midwives and says having a midwifery program in the state could help create more midwives and offer a more cost-effective way to become one.
“Right now, people have to travel out of state... I think that can be pretty cost prohibited,” Leithart told ADN. “I think having something in state would be very advantageous to the midwives, to those who choose to be a midwife in the state and those who receive midwifery care.”
Most midwives already practicing in the state live in north or central Alabama because they could only practice in Tennessee before the Alabama’s Childbirth Freedom Act was signed into law in 2017. There are currently 15 certified professional midwives licensed in Alabama.
McClendon said he hopes a program at Wallace State College will not only encourage more students to become midwives but to also stay and serve in the area.
“If we can properly train ladies that live in the Black Belt, then they’ll probably stay in the Black Belt, and at least these babies being born there will have some kind of care,” McClendon said.
According to the Alabama Hospital Association, 29 of 67 counties in the state have hospitals with a labor and delivery unit. Selma is located in Dallas County which has one delivering hospital.
Alabama’s infant mortality rate has decreased in recent years but disparities between Black and white infants’ and mothers’ survival rates still persist.
The 2018 Black infant mortality rate was 11 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in Alabama compared to the white infant mortality rate of 5.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
James Mitchell, president of Wallace State Community College, said he thinks the program is a good idea but the meeting on Tuesday is just a starting point.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what the commission comes up with and we’ll move from there,” Mitchell said.
McClendon says he expects to get pushback from the medical community of Alabama who opposed the passage of the 2017 law but support will also come down to how much the program will cost and if the Alabama Legislature will approve the appropriation.