In an investigative story for Kaiser Health News, rural hospitals are having to navigate just how many babies they can deliver to justify keeping their obstetric units amid financial issues and low delivery numbers. As rural facilities close their delivery units, they expand the already sizeable “maternity deserts” in rural America.

From the story: “Some researchers have raised concerns based on their findings that hospitals with few deliveries are more likely to experience problems with those births. Meanwhile, “maternity deserts” are becoming more common. From 2004 to 2014, 9% of rural U.S. counties lost all hospital obstetric services, leaving slightly more than half of rural counties without any, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Health Affairs. Yet shutting down the obstetrics unit doesn’t stop babies from arriving, either in the emergency room or en route to the next closest hospital. In addition, women may have to travel farther for prenatal care if there’s no local maternity unit.

Clinician skills and confidence suffer without sufficient practice, said Dr. Nancy Dickey, a family physician and executive director of the Texas A&M [University] Rural and Community Health Institute in College Station. So, what is that minimum threshold for baby deliveries? “I don’t have a number for you,” she said.”

To read the rest of the story on Kaiser Health News, click here.