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In-Depth: Rural hospital labor & delivery units close as staffing shortages grow

Posted at 5:16 PM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-23 12:12:32-05

CENTRAL TEXAS — Doctors and health experts are speaking up and highlighting how a nationwide nursing shortage, through the pandemic, is affecting rural health care.

The pandemic is putting an immense amount of strain on the system and forcing many rural hospitals in Texas to close their labor and delivery units.

Right now, only 40 percent can offer expecting mom's full delivery care.

There's no question, rural hospitals are taking a hit. A spike in COVID-19 patients coupled with a nation-wide nursing shortage.

John Henderson with the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals said those decisions comes down to what services can be provided.

"Which forces rural hospitals that are vulnerable to make some hard decisions," Henderson said. "The ob services are the first to go."

Steps they don't want to take but say in some cases are necessary.

"So they can pull nurses into a medical floor to take care of COVID-19 patients, additional medical strain," Henderson said.

But as labor and delivery services shut down, expecting mothers are forced to drive long distances to give birth.

"It's a different problem if you find yourself 10 or 15 miles from the next closest mile -- we are staring to see ob deserts, places in West Texas 50 or 60 or 100 miles."

According to state data, 60 percent of those units have closed up. In Central Texas, one hospital is making it a priority to keep it's labor and delivery unit open and functioning. Joycesarah McCabe with Goodall Witcher hospital in Clifton said through the tough time, they are all about making it work

"Our labor and delivery unit.. We are well," McCabe said. "I knock on wood when I say that and we are doing well and have plans in place so if we got a nurse short, we can move or maneuver and put in place."

A sigh of relief for some expecting mothers in the area, but as the nurse shortage continues and hospital congestion lingers due to the virus -- Henderson pointed out, the fear is not knowing how much longer some systems can handle it.

"What we need to do it get through COVID and stabilize the hospitals," Henderson said.