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

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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.

“Very respected, talented doctors are leaving. “Recruiting a replacement will be extremely difficult,” Sandpoint-based Bonner General Health said in a news release.

Pregnant women who used 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 saw fewer than 10 pediatric patients, the hospital said.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, abortion bans have added another challenge to rural hospitals struggling to keep their doors open and their facilities staffed and operating.

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’s decision, the Indiana Hospital Association said the state was “creating an atmosphere that will be viewed as antagonistic toward physicians.”

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

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

“The Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass laws 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 suits and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines,” Bonner General said in his statement.

CBS News’ requests for further comment from the hospital were not returned Saturday.

In addition to the legal and political climate in Idaho, Bonner General also cited an “emotional and difficult decision” to suspend labor and delivery services due to staff shortages and changing demographics.

Since 2005, at least 190 rural hospitals have closed or restructured 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 the elimination of these services,” Ford Elsaesser, Bonner General Health’s board chairman, said in a statement. “We had hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are now insurmountable.”

Often, residents of rural areas are left to drive hundreds of miles to access health care. In 2019, Pew Research released 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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