Rural hospitals getting out of the birthing business?

It’s getting so you can’t even give birth in a hospital in some sections of Minnesota anymore.

The Duluth News Tribune reports the Cook County North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais will close its obstetrics unit, joining Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital in announcing the closing of birthing facilities. According to one survey, the number of hospitals offering obstetrics facilities is down 23 percent, most of them in rural areas.

It’s not that women aren’t having babies, it’s that hospitals can’t get insurance because of rules from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, specifically one requiring that emergency cesarean section must be available within 30 minutes. From the Cook County hospital, the nearest available C-sections are in Duluth, 110 miles away, the newspaper says.

“Even if we did, we estimate to have anesthesia and surgery capabilities — not including the surgeon — would be $1 million a year,” she said in an interview. “That does not include a surgeon or an OBGYN or a family practitioner who’s trained to do a C-section.”

Dr. Milan Schmidt, the hospital’s medical director, told the audience at Thursday’s meeting that’s just not feasible in Cook County.

“C-section availability within 30 minutes is unimaginable,” he said.

But those standards don’t make sense in a community such as Grand Marais, said Betsy Jorgenson, a transplant from Minneapolis who has had her two births at the Cook County hospital within the past two years.

“The tangled web of liability is reaching into the community where maybe the same rules shouldn’t apply,” Jorgenson said in an interview. “You can’t apply the same logic to every situation.”

According to a study last year by a University of Minnesota researcher, only 20 percent of rural counties had access to obstetrics services, while 15 percent of all births occurred in rural hospitals.