Staffing, strict abortion laws lead Idaho hospital to end obstetrics services

A combination of a loss of pediatricians, changing demographics and some of the strictest abortion laws in the country is forcing Sandpoint, Idaho-based Bonner General Hospital to stop delivering babies, the hospital said in a news release.

Local patients will now have to drive almost 50 miles for labor and delivery care because of the shutdown, according to a March 17 Idaho Capital Sun report.

Sandpoint Women's Health will stop accepting new obstetrics patients immediately, but the hospital said it will make every attempt to continue deliveries until May 19, depending on available staffing.

While an aging population in the area and a difficulty in hiring pediatricians are part of the decision, Idaho's restrictive abortion laws also played a role, with physicians subject to felony charges and revocation of their medical licenses for violations of the law, the hospital said.

 "The Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care," the hospital said in a news release. "Consequences for Idaho physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines."

Amelia Huntsberger, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Bonner General Health, said she will soon leave the hospital and the state because of the abortion laws.

"What a sad, sad state of affairs for our community," she wrote in an email.

Leadership at the hospital said it had been an "emotional and difficult" decision to end such services.

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

Bonner General Health is a 25-bed critical access hospital and healthcare network of outpatient clinics and services, according to its website.

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