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Another Idaho hospital announces it can no longer deliver babies

The U.S. birth rate went up in 2021. Here, a baby is seen in a hospital in McAllen, Texas in 2020.
Eric Gay
/
AP
The U.S. birth rate went up in 2021. Here, a baby is seen in a hospital in McAllen, Texas in 2020.

A critical access hospital that serves a rural community northwest of Boise will no longer deliver babies after June 1.

Valor Health’s decision to stop offering labor and delivery care in Emmett comes on the heels of a North Idaho hospital shuttering its maternity services.

It also comes as the Idaho Legislature is on track to defund research into preventing maternal deaths; as state lawmakers have banned nearly all abortions; and as Idaho chooses not extend its postpartum Medicaid coverage.

Like many rural hospitals, Valor Health has taken multiple hits in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of staff and nurses who can deliver babies, and the revenue challenges that have dogged rural health care for decades are among the factors the hospital referenced in an announcement posted to its website.

“It has been increasingly difficult and unsustainably expensive to recruit and retain a full team of high quality, broad-spectrum nurses to work in a rural setting where nurses need to be proficient in many different fields,” the hospital’s announcement said.

Meanwhile, the small county-owned hospital had invested in maternity facilities but projected only 50 deliveries in the coming year, it said in the announcement. There are several hospitals within an hour of Emmett, including hospitals operated by St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus health systems, which have invested heavily in maternity care in the past decade.

Bonner General Health in Sandpoint announced March 17 that its leadership “made every effort to avoid eliminating these services, but we have been forced” to do so. The hospital could no longer safely provide the services, it said, due to a lack of pediatricians, fewer patients delivering babies there, and financial limitations.

That hospital serves a larger region in the Panhandle. Along with pregnant patients from Sandpoint, those in surrounding Bonner County and Boundary County communities will be directed to a medical center in Coeur d’Alene, about an hour away.

Unlike the Bonner County hospital’s announcement, however, Valor Health did not cite Idaho’s legal and political climate around reproductive health care as one of the challenges.

“Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving,” Bonner General’s announcement earlier this month said. “Recruiting replacements will be extraordinarily difficult. In addition, 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.”

This story was originally written by Audrey Dutton for the Idaho Capital Sun.

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