How Low Can They Go? Rural Hospitals Weigh Keeping Obstetric Units When Births Decline

As rural hospitals struggle to stay financially stable, their leaders watch other small facilities close obstetrics units to cut costs. They face a no-win dilemma: Can we continue operating delivery units safely if there are few births? But if we close, do we risk the health and lives of babies and mothers? The other question this debate hangs on: How few is too few births? Consider the 11-bed Providence Valdez Medical Center, which brings 40 to 60 newborns into the world each year, according to Dr. John Cullen, one of several family physicians who deliver babies at the Valdez, Alaska, hospital. The next nearest obstetrics unit is a six- to seven-hour drive away, if ice a...

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