Bonner General Health in Sandpoint will stop offering labor and delivery services in May, the hospital announced Friday.
Bonner General, which serves much of rural northern Idaho, lost pediatric coverage and saw a decline in annual deliveries, according to a press release Friday.
Those factors, along with new Idaho laws criminalizing abortions that the hospital says have caused doctors to leave the state, led Bonner General to end obstetric care.
“The Idaho legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care that is nationally recognized as the standard of care,” the press release reads. “Consequences for Idaho physicians who provide standard care could include civil litigation and criminal prosecution.”
One OB/GYN has resigned from Bonner Health over the laws.
The hospital tried to avoid shutting down the service, but it has become more difficult to recruit doctors, the press release said.
“We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services,” Ford Elsaesser, chairman of the board of directors of Bonner General Health, said in a statement. “We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are now impossible to overcome.”
In January, the Idaho State Supreme Court upheld multiple laws that amount to a near-total ban on abortion, allowing only defenses in court for abortions performed in documented cases of rape, incest or to save the life of a pregnant person.
The law’s vagueness makes it likely that doctors will refrain from legal abortions but also require care for miscarriages, a lawsuit against the bill argued.
The court upheld a civil enforcement law that allows immediate and extended family members to sue medical providers who perform abortions.
Hundreds of doctors in Idaho are resisting the laws, along with numerous medical organizations, The Idaho Capital Sun reported.
“It is absolutely appalling that we are in this era where providing safe health care is a criminal offense,” said Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.
Women living in the northernmost part of the Idaho Panhandle will have to drive nearly 50 miles further than they should to receive obstetric care.
“This is a devastating blow to healthcare access in the panhandle,” Dillon said.
Planned Parenthood locations in Spokane County have already seen an increase in patients crossing the border from Idaho. There was a 75% increase in Idaho patients in January compared to the previous year.
Traveling further for obstetric care could lead to poorer health outcomes, Dillon said. A recent Commonwealth Fund study showed that there are a large number of “deserts” of maternity care in states with significant abortion restrictions.
The same study found that maternal death rates in 2020 were 62% higher in states with abortion restrictions than in states with more access.
Bonner General currently employs four obstetricians/gynaecologists and one general practitioner at their Sandpoint Women’s Health clinic. The women’s health clinic remains open and plans to partner with Kootenai Health, nearly 50 miles away in Coeur d’Alene, to provide obstetric care.
“Kootenai Health has a long-standing positive relationship with Bonner General Health and will continue to work with them to serve our region,” Kootenai Health said in a statement. “The leadership of both hospitals is working together to identify any barriers to care for the patient population impacted by this closure and to devise solutions to ensure a quality birth experience.”
Kootenai Health recently opened a new birth center for families with a neonatal intensive care unit. The hospital delivers an average of 2,200 babies per year.
Last year, 265 babies were born at Bonner General, part of a steady annual decline, the hospital said. Patients in Boundary County, north of Bonner Country, rely on the Sandpoint Women’s Health Clinic, operated by Bonner General, for their OBGYN care. The hospital is contracted with a local pediatric group to provide on-call inpatient pediatric coverage, but does not employ a full-time pediatrician.
Bonner General will make “every effort” to continue deliveries through May 19, but that is subject to staffing levels, the press release said.