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Maps: Austin Health Disparities at Birth

A new study shows how Travis County’s low-income areas are home to inadequate prenatal care and troublesome birth outcomes – including a racial disparity in neonatal intensive care unit admissions.

The study, released at the Birth Outcomes Summit at Dell Children’s Hospital, uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Texas Department of State Health Services.

Mapping incidences of nenonatal ICU admissions, inadequate prenatal care, and preterm births, data shows that Travis County’s underserved and impoverished populations experience high incidences of poor birth outcomes.

The study was prepared by Children’s Optimal Health, a group that analyzes and visualizes regional health data.

“We find a lot of negative birth outcomes where we find poverty, and there is some definite disparity between ethnicities,” says Maureen Britton, president and executive director of Children's Optimal Health.

“When you look at GIS mapping, where there are large concentrations of low income people, particularly … east of IH-35 and in the Rundberg area, there are high incidences of poor birth outcomes.”

Premature birth rates are tied less to income than other poor birth indicators. 10 percent of births in Travis County were preterm from 2007 to 2010.

Additional data  shows a higher rate of African-American infants require use of nenonatal ICU services. Britton says routine births cost a minimum of $2,500, but nenonatal ICU costs run a minimum of $45,000 on average. 

The majority of census tracts where a high percentage of births are admitted to neonatal ICUs fall outside of Austin's urban core.

Children's Optimal Health hopes it can assist in matching medical services to community needs.

“What we were really trying to figure out was, where are we finding concentrations or large numbers as far as negative birth outcomes. But more than that, it is helping those people that provide services to understand the lives, cultures, and environments where the mothers come from.”

The partner agencies with Children's Optimal Health will be expanding the study to Williamson and Hays counties before beginning a new research project next year.

Carrie Powell is a news intern covering stories for the KUT News blog. Originally hailing from Ohio, Carrie entered the world of public radio through WGTE FM 91 in Toledo. Having recently concluded a year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA, Carrie is interested in news, community, and storytelling.
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