Citing staffing issues and political climate, North Idaho hospital will no longer deliver babies

BOISE (Idaho Capital Sun) – Idaho’s Bonner General Health, the only hospital in Sandpoint, announced Friday afternoon it will no longer provide obstetrical services to the city of more than 9,000 people, meaning patients will have to drive 46 miles for labor and delivery care moving forward.

“We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services,” said Ford Elsaesser, the hospital’s board president, in a news release. “We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are impossible to overcome now.”

The hospital said it will continue to provide women’s health services at Sandpoint Women’s Health and collaborate with Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene, which is about an hour from Sandpoint, to provide obstetrical care.

Sandpoint Women’s Health will not accept new obstetrics patients effective immediately and offered a referral list for patients to use for their care. The hospital said it would make every attempt to continue deliveries through May 19, but said it will depend on staffing.

The hospital’s board of directors and senior leadership called the decision an emotional and difficult one in the press release, and cited a loss of pediatricians, changing demographics and Idaho’s legal and political climate around health care as the reasons for the decision.

According to the press release, Bonner General Health delivered 265 babies in 2022 and admitted fewer than 10 pediatric patients, which is a decrease from prior years that reflects a nationwide decrease in births and an older population moving to Bonner County.

“Without pediatrician coverage to manage neonatal resuscitations and perinatal care, it is unsafe and unethical to offer routine labor and delivery services,” the press release said, citing months of negotiations that sought to avoid the outcome. “BGH has reached out to other active and retired providers in the community requesting assistance with pediatric call coverage with no long-term sustainable solutions.”

Longtime Idaho OBGYN says she is leaving the state amid hospital announcement

The release also said highly respected, talented physicians are leaving the state, and recruiting replacements will be “extraordinarily difficult.”

Idaho has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country, with affirmative defenses in court only for documented instances of rape, incest or to save the pregnant person’s life. Physicians are subject to felony charges and the revocation of their medical license for violating the statute, which the Idaho Supreme Court determined is constitutional in January.

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

Dr. Amelia Huntsberger, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Bonner General Health, said in an email to States Newsroom that she will soon leave the hospital and the state because of the abortion laws as well as the Idaho Legislature’s decision not to continue the state’s maternal mortality review committee.

“What a sad, sad state of affairs for our community,” Huntsberger wrote.

Linda Larson, who has lived in Sandpoint for 36 years and delivered her first child at Bonner General Health, said the community relies on Bonner General Health for much of its health care services, including physical therapy and routine blood work.

“It’s just breaking my heart to see what’s happening,” Larson said. “It’s a wonderful hospital; they have excellent care. I just can’t say enough good things about it.”

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