CV NEWS FEED // Rural hospitals in Ohio, Illinois, New York, and Oregon are closing down their maternity wards due to a staff shortage and lower birth rates, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
University hospitals in Ashland, Ohio, OSF Healthcare in Pontiac, Illinois, and Trinity Health in Troy, New York, and Baker City, Oregon, will all shut down their maternity wards by the end of the year.
In Pontiac, the local hospital, OSF St. James, saw a decline in births. The number of deliveries went from 500 babies a year to less than 180 a year.
In a statement shared with CatholicVote, OSF said:
Many hospitals and health care systems, especially in rural areas, are struggling to care for expectant mothers right now. This is due to several factors, including physician shortages, staffing challenges, regulatory requirements, and financial hardships.
The hospital will no longer deliver babies and will direct patients to other OSF hospitals, the statement said.
Liz Davidson, interim president at OSF Saint James, explained that digital care may replace much of their in-person care.
“We want to be where our patients need us, and OSF HealthCare is committed to offering digital services to supplement our in-person care,” said Davidson:
We can offer virtual visits for most healthy pregnancies throughout prenatal care, or our remote patient monitoring program for prenatal and postpartum care is available to complement your visits to a doctor’s office.
Meanwhile, in Ashland, Ohio, the University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center discontinued their labor and delivery services on August 8 after local births dropped from 300 to 180.
“Hospitals across the country are experiencing a trend of declining birth rates. This, along with staffing shortages, has resulted in having to make this difficult decision,” the hospital’s chief operating officer, Sylvia Radziszewski, said in a press release shared with CatholicVote. “We appreciate the sense of loss the community may experience.”
UH Samaritan will continue to offer “comprehensive” women’s and children’s health services. For deliveries, they will partner with another nearby hospital, Ohio Health, a half-hour away.
Part of the difficulty is that birthing services require 24/7 coverage from pediatric and OB/GYN physicians, the press release said.
Lack of maternity care in rural communities threatens the health of babies and mothers. As WSJ reports, maternal mortality is at its highest since 1965. And in rural communities, women are more likely to give birth prematurely. Rural hospitals that are inexperienced with delivering babies show a higher risk of complications for babies and mothers.
According to a 2023 press release by March of Dimes, over one third of U.S. counties are considered “maternity care deserts,” These deserts are “counties without a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care and without any obstetric providers.”
The March of Dimes’ report found that maternity care access has worsened for millions of women across the U.S.
“More than 32 million reproductive-age women are vulnerable to poor health outcomes due to a lack of access to reproductive healthcare services, like family planning clinics and skilled birth attendants,” said the report.
“More than 5.6 million women live in counties with no or limited access to maternity care services, forcing families to find new ways to get the care they need.”
With hospital maternity units closing across the nation, March of Dimes asks the critical question—why?
“Even before the pandemic, hospitals started closing maternity units across the country due to low birth volume and rising costs,” said the release. “According to the American Hospital Association, more than 50% of births in maternity care deserts are reimbursed by Medicaid, which have lower reimbursement rates—forcing hospitals to make cuts that leave patients without access to care.”
“In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has reported obstetrics to have one of the highest burnout rates across medical specialties, making it difficult to recruit and retain providers,” said the release.