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Maternity Unit Closures in Rural America: How Locum Coverage Addresses the Trend

Maternity unit closures in smaller communities can have significant consequences. Based on the American Hospital Survey Databases, between 2015 and 2019, 89 rural hospitals in the U.S. shuttered their units. As a result, more than 2.2 million women of childbearing age live in counties where obstetrics care is no longer available locally. Utilizing locum providers is one strategy rural facilities employ to prevent the loss of this vital service. 

Alleviating Budgetary Pressure

Rural maternity units present an economic challenge for smaller facilities. Low patient volumes mean maintaining a full-time staff can be cost-prohibitive. Locum providers can relieve budget pressures and allow hospitals the flexibility to contract with providers who fit their needs. These temporary physicians can mean the difference between a gap in obstetrics coverage and continuity of care for local patients.

Closing the staffing gap

Lack of staffing is a major factor in maternity unit closures. Having the option of plugging in a locum provider to fill temporary gaps in obstetrics is invaluable for rural facilities. Factors such as limited resources and low patient volume can make it challenging to fill gaps. Addressing temporary staffing issues through locum coverage gives hospitals breathing room while recruiting permanent replacements.

Making the Most of Limited Resources

Due to their wide range of experience, locum providers tend to adapt quickly to the unique challenges of providing care to a rural community. One of the leading factors in maternity unit closures is the unwillingness of some providers to work in a smaller hospital setting. Locums may be more adept at adjusting to staff shortages and maximizing limited resources. Locums willing to accept assignments in a rural setting may be attracted by the opportunity to build stronger provider/patient relationships and the slower pace of life, making them less likely to become dissatisfied at a smaller facility. 

Maternity unit closures can negatively impact the lives of babies and mothers. However, more rural communities are at risk of becoming “maternity deserts” in the years to come. Locum providers offer one of the best opportunities for smaller facilities to continue providing the comprehensive care their patients deserve.

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