COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — The latest data shows maternal and infant mortality rates increased in South Carolina.

A new study shows expectant mothers from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in search of quality maternal care face dual burdens of long-distance travel and inadequate digital access.

Dr. Peiyen Hung is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health and deputy director for the Rural and Minority Health Research. Dr. Hung and her team worked to find out drive times to maternal health units and access to digital equipment.

The study found nationally that about 40% of rural zip codes it took more than 30 minutes to get to the nearest hospital maternity unit and in about 16% of urban zip codes.

Dr. Hung said excessive travel to reach hospitals can lead to delays in quality care and increased rates of adverse outcomes.

Dr. Hung said, “Access to quality maternity care is always the most important thing to have optimal maternal and infant outcomes. So it really to have equitable access to maternity care really needs to would will be very important and addressing travel borders to care.”

According to the South Carolina Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Review Committee, women who resided in rural counties in South Carolina had a 70.4% higher rate of pregnancy related death than their urban counterparts.

Telehealth consultations and remote perinatal support for families in remote or underserved areas require digital technology, yet Hung’s study showed these residents have the least access to digital technology.

“This ‘digital divide’ in both rural and urban underserved communities is likely to exacerbate disparities in maternal health outcomes, despite technological advances and national trends toward greater use of telehealth,” Dr. Hung said.

In addition to telehealth, the South Carolina Office of Rural Health said there are initiatives available to help these mothers and their families. Director of Family Solutions Lamikka Samuel said home visit programs, the Healthy Start Initiative and a nurse-family partnership program provide assistance.

Samuel said, “We’re able to not only form a relationship with the recipients of the services that we offer, but we connect with their family members, we connect with their community, the people that they see and work with and live with everyday on a daily basis.”