With the closure of St. Marks Medical Center in La Grange on Oct. 12, health care specialists in Bastrop County are voicing concerns over a lack of women's health resources in the area as more demand for services is expected on regional hospitals.

Donna Nichols is the interim executive director for the newly formed Bastrop County Health Department. She said a considerable amount of maternal and child health services are missing family planning.

“The fact that we're now at 104,000 in population—it speaks to the need for health services for a variety of groups of people,” Nichols said.

Dr. Linda Wilson, Smithville Hospital Authority board president, said Bastrop is a desert for women’s health care options. In Bastrop County, there is roughly 1 physician for every 3,000 patients, while most Texas counties have 1 for every 1,500. Furthermore, many children are born in Austin and surrounding areas as the Bastrop Birthing Center is the only active birthing center in the community.

“We clearly don't have an adequate supply of providers,” Wilson said.

The background

Wilson said better access to women’s health care in Bastrop will help individuals identify preventable diseases for women in the area.

“Early intervention is preventative for so many preventable conditions, from cancer to breast cancer to prenatal complications,” she said.

Nichols said many women must travel out of the county to receive care, which can make receiving care even more difficult for low-income individuals.

“Many of our women and families have had to go to Austin for service,” Nichols said. “Frequently, there's an economic trade-off with the most vulnerable having to seek health services.”

Nichols said a lack of accessible women’s health care in Bastrop affects whole families.

“It takes away from families in terms of mom and dad's ability to continue to work because not everybody can get out of work to go to a physician's visit or to go to a particular service,” Nichols said. “There is a whole lot of planning that a family has to do to make sure that one gets there, be it gas for the car, time off [or] child care.”

Current situation

Federally qualified health clinics, such as Lone Star Circle of Care, offer prenatal care in Bastrop. Wilson said women’s health services are fragmented in the county without a women’s hospital or clinic.

“With the creation of the public health department ... one of the priorities that we said is maternal child health needs, just the preventive needs and early care in terms of prenatal care, to try to diminish the bad outcomes from having no prenatal care,” Wilson said.

Going forward

Women's health will be a topic addressed as part of the newly instated county health department’s assessment of health care needs in Bastrop, Nichols said. Utilizing state and federal funds, the department will help lessen burdens on rural hospitals and increase public health knowledge.