RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia women of childbearing age reporting higher rates of mental distress and a nationwide increase in the maternal mortality rate are just a few of the key findings in a new nationwide health ranking study on women and children.
Dr. Rhonda Randall, Chief Medical Officer of the United Health Foundation, said in their '2021 Health of Women and Children Report', they uncovered strengths as well as critical challenges and disparities that they hoped would be addressed.
"The report is always a call to action for individuals and their communities, for public health officials and for policymakers," said Dr. Randall. "When the state has limited resources, which all 50 states do, it's important to understand where to invest in improving things related to health."
The report found Virginia had low rates of asthma and depression in kids and strong rates of education in women.
"Virginia is third in the nation for the number of women who are college graduates that's very protective for your health in the long run," said Dr. Randall.
The state also saw improvements as teen births and the uninsured rate decreased, according to the report.
But the report also found critical areas in Virginia needed improvement.
The state ranked nearly last, 42 in the nation, for children who were eligible for SNAP benefits having access to those benefits. And women in the state reported a significant increase in mental distress.
"In women, we saw rates of mental distress. That's women saying, '14 or more days a month, I feel mental distress'. That went up 52% in the state of Virginia between the year 2013 and the year 2019," said Dr. Randall.
While Dr. Randall said the report doesn’t explain the cause or effect of why that’s happening, she said socioeconomic, physical health and caregiving burdens strongly correlated.
Another area of concern? The maternal mortality rate.
Dr. Randall said there had been a continuous nationwide increase in moms who were dying during pregnancy and within 42 days after that pregnancy.
"The United States is significantly worse than many non-developed nations in the world with relation to maternal mortality rates and we know that black moms, in particular, are, disproportionately affected," Dr. Randall said.
Rupa Murthy, Chief Advancement and Advocacy Officer at YWCA Richmond, said they were seeing a local spike in infant and maternal mortality specifically for those seeking domestic and sexual violence resources.
"Oftentimes, we have mothers coming in that haven't been able to receive prenatal care," said Murthy.
She said the organization, which worked to eliminate racism and empower women, was also seeing an increased need and resources for survivors of sexual and domestic violence,
"At this point, we're really on the verge of, on the verge of a crisis situation with childcare in our region, we're on the verge of a crisis situation with family violence and, and domestic and sexual violence in our region," said Murthy.
She said anyone experiencing domestic and sexual violence could reach out to their hotline via call or text at (804) 612-6126 for more assistance.
The YWCA offers programs and emergency services for survivors.