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Closure of Maternity Ward in Kern County Reflects Ongoing Rural Health Care Crisis

Photo: The Bakersfield Californian

The imminent closure of Ridgecrest Regional Hospital’s maternity ward in Kern County, adding to the growing list of shuttered labor and delivery units across rural America, highlights the challenges faced by expecting mothers, who must now travel long distances for specialized obstetric care.

Photo: The Bakersfield Californian

Closure Trend

The closure of Ridgecrest Regional’s maternity ward is part of a concerning trend that has seen numerous hospitals, including Palmdale Regional Medical Center, shut down their labor and delivery units in response to various challenges, such as inadequate reimbursement rates, staff shortages, declining birthrates, and financial strain.

The closure of Palmdale Regional’s maternity department resulted from underuse, leading to the repurposing of facilities for higher-demand services.

Antelope Valley Medical Center (AVMC) has felt the impact, preparing to accommodate patients affected by the closure and recognizing the challenge posed by low insurance reimbursement rates.

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Financial Challenges

Financial difficulties, including multimillion-dollar annual losses incurred by maternity units, compounded by a lack of obstetric providers, have prompted hospital integrations like Ridgecrest Regional’s collaboration with East Kern Health Care District, seeking financial relief and addressing the provider shortage.

The closure’s impact extends beyond financial strain, impacting community healthcare access and underscoring broader challenges faced by rural hospitals statewide.

Hospital councils emphasize the urgent need for improved reimbursement rates and note that hospitals are increasingly unable to sustain financially burdensome services.

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