Idaho hospital to stop delivering babies. One reason? ‘Bills that criminalize physicians’

Bonner General Health, the only hospital in Sandpoint, announced Friday that 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.

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

“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.”

Bonner General Health’s hospital in Sandpoint, in North Idaho.
Bonner General Health’s hospital in Sandpoint, in North Idaho.

“Without pediatrician coverage to manage neonatal resuscitations and perinatal care, it is unsafe and unethical to offer routine labor and delivery services,” said the news release, which 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.”

The hospital said it would make every attempt to continue deliveries through May 19, but said it will depend on staffing. 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.

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

Bonner General Health’s March 17, 2023, news release announcing that the hospital in Sandpoint, in North Idaho, will discontinue labor and delivery services.
Bonner General Health’s March 17, 2023, news release announcing that the hospital in Sandpoint, in North Idaho, will discontinue labor and delivery services.

Physicians could face felony charges, lose licenses

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 licenses for violating the statute, which the Idaho Supreme Court in January determined is constitutional.

“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.”

Longtime OB-GYN says she’s leaving Idaho

Dr. Amelia Huntsberger, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Bonner General Health, said in an email to States Newsroom, a national nonprofit whose newsrooms include the Idaho Capital Sun in Boise, that she will soon leave the hospital and the state because of the abortion laws and the 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 the hospital 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.”

Where to get OB-GYN care in far North Idaho

Sandpoint Women’s Health will not accept new obstetrics patients effective immediately and offered a referral list for patients to use for their care.

Other hospitals that can still take labor and delivery patients are:

  • Cabinet Peaks OB/GYN in Libby, Montana

  • Coeur OBGYN in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

  • Health Care for Women in Coeur d’Alene

  • Kootenai Clinic OB-GYN in Coeur d’Alene

  • Kootenai Clinic OB-GYN in Post Falls, Idaho

  • Newport Hospital in Newport, Washington

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