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Expectant parents face uncertainty and long drives with closure of Bonner General's maternity services

The hospital is no longer accepting OB patients and will close the department in May.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — By May 19, no planned deliveries will happen at Bonner General Health. 

The hospital announced late last week it was closing its labor and delivery services, citing a decrease in doctors, patients, and the legal and political climate in Idaho.

That's already having an impact on expectant parents.

Leandra Wright is looking forward to the birth of her son in August. She expects it to be a quick labor like many of her other children.

“About two hours and they’re here," she said. "It doesn’t take long."

She paused, thinking about this particular delivery.

"It’s a matter of being in tune with yourself and being able to time it right. What if I don’t time it right and I don’t know. I don’t know. I just hope we make it.”

That uncertainty comes because now that birth won't happen in the hospital she's become comfortable with.

“I had a baby December of 2020. This would’ve been my second here," she said of Bonner General in Sandpoint.

Wright, who lives about ten minutes away in Sagle, says she found out about the closure of the OB services on a Facebook post. She says her doctors never mentioned anything like this in her prior appointments and she hasn't had any issues getting regular care during her pregnancy.

Along with a decline in pediatricians and less obstetrical patients, Bonner General said in a statement the closure has to do with Idaho's abortion laws.

"Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving. Recruiting replacements will be extraordinarily difficult. In addition, the Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho Physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines."

For Wright, the politics don't matter much. She's thinking down the road, about 48 minutes away, where she'll likely deliver. 

If she doesn't give birth on the side of the highway, like she did 15 years ago when faced with a similar drive during labor with her now teenage son.

“I’ll have to finish my last trimester appointments down in Coeur d’Alene, I assume? I just called and talked to them about it today because I wasn’t sure how that was going to go," she said. "My last two babies I’ve had have been quick, so hopefully I make it. My 15 year old son, I lived about 40-45 minutes from the hospital and unfortunately it was the dead of winter and he was born on the side of the highway because we couldn’t make it.”

Other expectant patients will need to transfer to Kootenai County Health. 

“It’s nerve-wracking and stressful and my stomach just kind of drops," Wright said. "Now I have to re-establish with another place and I have to drive to have my baby.”

KREM 2 is working to get more answers from Bonner General about the decision; a spokesperson says the hospital has been overwhelmed with the national response to the decision and someone would get back to us for an interview, though Monday that request hadn't been answered.

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