Idaho hospital to stop labor and delivery services citing “political climate” and doctor shortages

Idaho hospital to stop labor and delivery services citing “political climate” and doctor shortages

An Idaho hospital will suspend labor and delivery services, citing physician shortages and the “political climate,” the hospital announced Friday.

“Highly respected and talented physicians are leaving. Recruiting replacements will be extremely difficult,” Bonner General Health, based in the city of Sandpoint, said in a news release.

Pregnant women who used Bonner General, a 25-bed hospital, will now have to drive to hospitals or birth centers in Coeur d’Alene or Spokane to give birth.

In 2022, doctors delivered 265 babies at Bonner General and saw fewer than 10 pediatric patients, the hospital said.

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In the wake of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion bans have added another challenge to rural hospitals that have struggled to keep their doors open and their facilities fully staffed and operational.

Across the country, hospitals have sounded the alarm that states with strict abortion laws risk losing staff or doctors to other regions. According to the Associated Press, in Indiana, one of the first states to restrict abortion after the Supreme Court ruling, the Indiana Hospital Association said the state is “creating an atmosphere that will be perceived as antagonistic toward doctors.”

Idaho has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. According to the Associated Press, in a court brief filed in August 2022 in support of a Justice Department lawsuit against Idaho’s abortion ban, medical groups argued that Idaho doctors are forced to choose whether to violate state or federal law.

In a report last September, Pew found that Idaho was one of six states in which authorities can prosecute health care providers for performing abortions.

“The Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for providing medical care that is nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho physicians who provide the standard of care can include civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution, leading to prison terms or fines,” General Bonner said in his news release.

Requests for further comment from CBS News at the hospital were not returned Saturday.

In addition to Idaho’s legal and political climate, Bonner General also cited the “emotional and difficult decision” to stop work and delivery services due to staff shortages and changing demographics.

Since 2005, at least 190 rural hospitals have closed or converted their operations, according to numbers compiled by the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina.

“We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services,” said Ford Elsaesser, Bonner General Health’s Board President, in a statement. “We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are insurmountable now.”

Often residents in rural areas are left to travel hundreds of kilometers to access health care. In 2019, Pew Research published a study showing that rural Americans live an average of 10.5 miles from the nearest hospital, compared to 5.6 miles for people in suburban areas and 4.4 miles for those in urban areas.

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