Rural health in crisis: Hospitals close labor and delivery units

Some rural hospitals are being forced to close their labor and delivery units as they cut costs in order to stay afloat. 

As a result, pregnant women in some areas of the country may have to travel many miles from home to have their babies and to receive prenatal care, according to a report by Kaiser Health News.

Maureen Murphy, M.D., of Alleghany Memorial Hospital, a 25-bed facility in Sparta, North Carolina told KHN that since her hospital's labor and delivery unit shut down, pregnant women must travel to Winston-Salem or Galax, Virginia, each a 30-minute drive, in order to have their babies.

"It's a long drive for prenatal care visits, and if they have a fast labor," Murphy said, it could be dangerous for the mother and the baby. 

Around 500,000 women give birth in rural hospitals each year, but access to reproductive health services is declining, according to the article. Indeed, a recent analysis in nine states with large rural populations found that 7.2 percent closed their obstetrics units between 2010 and 2014. 

The closures are largely due to small hospitals feeling the funding pinch, particularly in states where Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid coverage. Obstetrics units are expensive to operate and some rural hospitals may see fewer than 100 deliveries per year.

A 2015 study by iVantage Health Analytics analyzed more than 2,000 rural hospitals nationwide, and found that nearly 300 of those were in danger of shutting down altogether. In order to face the challenging times ahead, rural hospitals need trustees who are forward-thinking and who understand the real nature and magnitude of the shakeups taking place in the healthcare industry.

To learn more:
- read the KHN article