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Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the country, and the maternal death rate is worsening, particularly for Black mothers, according to data from the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Getty Israel, a public health expert, warned about this possibility last year as the state’s only abortion clinic prepared to close.

In April, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law a series of bills that he says create a culture of life. The legislation included tax credits for adoption and an expansion of Medicaid coverage for up to one year postpartum.

But critics say the bills aren’t keeping up with the challenges.

In the last year, the only NICU in the Delta closed, and at least three other labor and delivery units across the state have also shuttered.

“Obstetrics is a lot of times, you know, the first to go,” said Dr. Rachel Morris.

That inspired her to launch a program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center called Stork, where emergency workers are trained to deliver babies.

“Depending on the nature of their emergency, they may not have the luxury of getting in a car and driving two and a half hours,” Morris said of some of the pregnant people in the area. “It’s gotta be so scary for these patients.”

She said the program helps to address a specific need in the area, where rural emergency rooms may not have some supplies for delivery. In addition to training, the program provides participating facilities with Stork bags, which contain critical supplies.

Morris acknowledges there are still other issues of care to address in the region, but the program is “a way to bridge the gap to give people what they need.”

“For me, that’s why I went into medicine, was to make a difference,” she said.

Morris said the program has trained 400 people and has a six-month waitlist.