More Communities Risk Becoming Maternity Deserts

BAKER CITY, Ore. — It’s a problem becoming more common across America. A community risks becoming a maternity desert. That means nowhere nearby for expecting mothers to deliver their babies. Here’s how it happened in Oregon.

First, Legacy Health closed its maternity unit in Gresham.  But community and state regulator pressure helped to overturn the decision.  But those depending on St. Alphonsus Health System were not as lucky.

“Last summer, St. Alphonsus in Baker City announced that it would be closing its labor and delivery units in just 4 weeks,” said Oregon U. S. Senator Ron Wyden.

He and his staff joined in local efforts to push back, trying to get more time. They managed to get an additional month, but it still left Baker City families in a very precarious position.  “You have to drive at least 45 miles further to the next hospital to give birth,  on roads that can sometimes be impassable because of winter weather or summer wildfires.”

Wyden and other lawmakers are proposing a federal Keep Obstetrics Local Act. It would use Medicaid to provide enhanced federal funding to help hospitals keep their doors open. Also, it offers, “Standby payments. Those hospitals can maintain appropriate services. And staffing levels around the clock, even when the volume of births is low.”


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