Abortion bans have made it increasingly challenging for rural hospitals nationwide to attract qualified staff.
Published: 2023-03-18 05:58 pm
Idaho hospital stops labor and delivery services citing "political climate"

An Idaho hospital will stop labor and delivery services, citing doctor shortages and the "political climate," the hospital announced Friday. 

"Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving. Recruiting replacements will be extraordinarily difficult," Bonner General Health, located in the city of Sandpoint, said in a news release.

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

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

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning 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 running. 

Nationwide, hospitals have been sounding 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 following the Supreme Court's decision, the Indiana Hospital Association said the state is "creating an atmosphere that will be perceived as antagonistic to physicians." 

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 the Idaho abortion ban, medical groups argued that Idaho physicians are forced to choose whether to break 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 medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho Physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines," Bonner General said in its news statement.

Requests for further comment from CBS News to 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 labor and delivery services because of staffing 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 impossible to overcome now."

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

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