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Rural Idaho Hospital to end labor, delivery services amidst staffing shortage

If you're getting insurance through a parent's plan, don't presume the hospital bill for childbirth will be covered.
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Bonner General Health in Idaho will no longer provide labor and delivery services as healthcare providers with expertise in reproductive care leave the state.

A north Idaho Hospital will no longer provide labor and delivery services. The hospital said there are two factors at play: a drop-in birthrates and Idaho’s recently passed abortion laws.

Bonner General Health is a small healthcare system in Sandpoint, Idaho. It is no longer accepting new obstetrics patients and is working to transfer patients to Kootenai Health, one county over, or to hospitals in Montana, or Washington.

Unless they go to the emergency room, parents living in rural, Bonner County now have to drive between forty and eighty miles to give birth.

The hospital said the area’s population is aging, and the region has seen declining birthrates. There is now too few patients in the area to employ a full-time pediatrician.

It also said physicians with needed skills have left the state. Replacing them is likely impossible because of increasingly strict restrictions on reproductive care.

Physicians practicing in Idaho now face civil lawsuits, or jail time, if they end a pregnancy. The only exemptions are if the pregnant person’s life is at risk, which many have argued isn’t clearly defined in Idaho law. There are also exceptions in cases of rape or incest – if a victim can provide a police report.

In a statement, the hospital’s board president said shutting down labor and delivery services was a difficult decision.

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

Some women’s healthcare services will still be provided at Sandpoint Women’s Health, but those related to labor and delivery will be transferred elsewhere.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.