According to a study by the University of South Carolina, access to maternity care in rural areas is declining. In the Capital Region, Columbia and Greene counties are considered "maternity care deserts" because there aren't any facilities where people can deliver babies.

Caly Bermel is just one week away from giving birth to her first baby. The Town of Stuyvesant resident lives 10 minutes from her nurse practitioner's office.

"The convenience factor is amazing," said Bermel. "It takes so much stress off of me during the pregnancy, especially later term, so it's been great; it's amazing."

Three years ago, though, she might not have said the same thing. Columbia Memorial Health discontinued labor and delivery services in 2019.

CMH still offers three health centers in Columbia and Greene counties for perinatal care, working with Albany Medical Center, who now provides their labor and delivery services.

St. Peter’s also stepped in, opening a new practice in Valatie in August 2020 to fill the void in maternity care in that region.

Family Nurse Practitioner Susan Koller, with the rest of the staff at St. Peter’s OB/GYN, provide comprehensive obstetrics and gynecology care.

"There was a lot of women coming to our Albany office for obstetrical care, but also gynecological care and then they did a market analysis to show that there was very little access down in Columbia County, so we opened the office then," said Koller.

That means expecting moms who want to deliver with St. Peter’s, like Bernel, no longer have to travel to Albany or Troy for frequent prenatal care visits.

"To cut hours off your travel to get care here has been really helpful and great for access for patients and also has improved the health of the pregnancies because they're getting care," said Koller.

Since patients are still as far as an hour away from the hospital where they'll give birth, Koller said she takes that into consideration in her conversations prior to them being full term and helps guide them.

Bermel has peace of mind knowing she has a place close by in case of emergencies.

"I feel like the drive would just make things so much more stressful, so having someone local is a lot easier, more convenient; takes one less thing off of the whole pregnancy plate," said Bermel.