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Idaho hospital cites ‘political climate’ in move to end labor and delivery

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The small hospital points to difficulties under the state’s abortion ban and a shortage of doctors in its ‘difficult decision’ to eliminate obstetrics service.

A small hospital in Idaho is no longer going to deliver babies, and the hospital’s leaders say it’s at least in part to the state’s restrictions on abortion.

Bonner General Health, a 25-bed critical access hospital in Sandpoint, says it’s closing its maternity ward in May. In a post on the hospital’s Facebook page, hospital officials say they hope to continue deliveries up until May 19. But the hospital says it’s ability to do so is dependent on staffing.

The hospital said it made the “emotional and difficult decision” to cease obstetric services for a host of reasons, including a shortage of physicians.

However, Bonner General also pointed to “Idaho's legal and political climate.”

Idaho has enacted one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws in wake of the Supreme Court ruling last year that ended the constitutional right to an abortion.

The hospital points to Idaho state lawmakers who are introducing legislation to “criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care.” Under the legislation, doctors could conceivably face criminal prosecution, including jail time, and civil litigation, the hospital says.

The legal climate is driving some physicians out of Idaho, the hospital states.

“Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving. Recruiting replacements will be extraordinarily difficult,” Bonner General stated.

When the hospital ends obstetrics service, some patients may have to drive to Coeur d'Alene or Spokane, Washington to give birth, CBS News reports.

"We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services," Ford Elsaesser, Bonner General Health's Board President, said in a statement included in the hospital’s post. "We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are impossible to overcome now."

The hospital also cites an older population and a new obstetric unit at Kootenai Health as reasons for its move.

Federal officials reported a 40% increase in the nation’s maternal mortality rate in 2021, and healthcare leaders point to “maternity care deserts” as a factor leading to complications and deaths. More than 1 in 3 U.S. counties have no hospitals offering obstetrics care and have no obstetric providers, according to a March of Dimes report released last October.

Some healthcare leaders have warned that lives could be lost as doctors struggle to understand what care they can and cannot provide in states that prohibit abortion. ECRI, a non-profit organization focused on patient safety, cited maternal and fetal care among its leading concerns in an annual report on threats to patients.

Marcus Schabacker, president and CEO of ECRI, says the confusion over the laws in some states “will delay treatment and it will cause patient harm. That's what we're concerned about.”

Doctors and pharmacists have decried vague state laws that make it unclear when physicians can intervene to protect the mother. Legal battles have taken place in some states, including Idaho.

The state’s law only allows abortion to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest. It doesn’t make exceptions for the mother’s health.

President Biden’s administration has argued that even in states where abortion is prohibited, doctors and hospitals are bound to follow federal law in emergency care. Under federal law, doctors are required to offer stabilizing treatment in medical emergencies.


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