‘A hole in the fabric of our community’

The loss of labor and delivery at Bonner General is the end of an era of safety, care and compassion

Bonner General Health’s announcement March 17 that it would end labor and delivery services ripped a hole in the fabric of our community. Generations of North Idaho residents were born at our hospital, proudly bearing the place name of Sandpoint, Idaho, on their birth certificates. Effective May 19, homegrown babies will be a rarer thing, familiar physicians’ faces will not greet the next generation and the essential services that safely ushered in new life will be gone. Birth is suddenly a more dangerous endeavor in North Idaho. Read on for a sense of what BGH has been to this community, including a place of comfort and the source of life-saving care, from a number of local women who volunteered to share their stories with the Reader.

— Jen Jackson Quintano

Judy York

My son was born in Coeur d’Alene almost 26 years ago, and we moved to Sandpoint not long after. My daughter was born at Bonner General in 2001. Both deliveries were atypical. Neither of my kids were able to come out naturally because my contractions were either too far apart or didn’t happen at all. With my daughter, my water broke with what is called a high leak. The doctor said contractions would start within 24 hours, but they didn’t. 

When I finally came in to get labor induced, they had to give me the highest level of pitocin to get things moving. After delivery, I lost blood in both cases — enough for me to have to stay an extra day. I tell people, had my children been born 100 or more years ago, I likely would not have survived. I am thankful I didn’t have to drive to Coeur d’Alene during these complications and am saddened we are losing such a valuable resource for women and their babies.

Carlie Johanson

My labor kept starting and stopping. The contractions were very intense, but spaced 20 minutes apart for hours. Since it was my second child, I knew what to expect, and something felt off. I asked if I could come to the hospital even though my contractions were far apart. I rushed through registration and hurried to the delivery room. 

As the nurse was hooking me up to the fetal monitoring, I could tell she was stressed. The heartbeat was much slower than was safe. 

They tried moving me into different positions to perk the baby up, but nothing was working. The OB came in calm, steady, and listened. Within minutes she said we would need to deliver the baby as quickly as possible. I asked if I could hold him after he was born. She let me know that the situation was critical and that I would be under general anesthesia. I asked if my partner could be with me, and she said that they didn’t allow support people while the mother is unconscious. My heart broke. 

I was rushed onto a gurney and down the hall. As we burst through the doors into the OR, I watched my husband trailing behind us, fear in his eyes. At the last moment, the OB tossed him a set of scrubs. She knew he was an ICU nurse at another hospital and made the call to let him in. 

It was a defining moment for me. To experience the care and accommodation, the speed, decisiveness and professionalism — it helped me feel ready. 

In a whirlwind, people introduced themselves, started IVs, strapped things on me and added a fetal heart monitor. That is when the doctor gave a signal to everyone to freeze. The room got silent. I asked what was wrong. Nothing was wrong; the heart rate had finally come up! The room relaxed. I heard it and saw it in the faces. I was cleared to go back to L&D to deliver my son without intervention.

I am grateful for the speed and professionalism that day. I’m crying while typing this. I want everyone to know the significance of my experience, and the gratitude I feel for BGH.

Jessica Bowman

I had both of my daughters at BGH. Isabella was delivered by Dr. Honsinger, the same doctor who delivered my little sister 16 years earlier. My younger daughter, Etta, was delivered in the same room. Etta’s labor and delivery went smoothly. She was born apparently healthy. Three or four hours after her birth, the nurse came in to check on her. Phyllis. I’ll never forget Phyllis. 

Courtesy art.

She calmly started doing tests that I’d not seen done with my older daughter. Cool as a cucumber, Phyllis took my baby, put her on oxygen and called the doctor. Etta was born with transient tachypnea; basically, her lungs were still trying to breathe fluid. Her oxygen levels were in the low 80s, and she was suffocating. 

Etta spent three days in the hospital nursery on oxygen. Had we been at home, she would have had permanent brain damage. The maternity ward — Phyllis, especially — saved my baby.

Jonell Anderson

Advanced. Maternal. Age. Duhn-duhn-duhn. 

I was a late-37-year-old when my spouse and I decided to try to have a baby. It was a difficult and well-considered choice. A purposeful one. I worked hard to prepare my body for the opportunity. But pregnancy did not come easily for us.

When all the basics had been covered and I still wasn’t pregnant at 39, I decided to look into further treatment, and my first stop was an OB at Sandpoint Women’s Health. She recommended we flush my fallopian tubes, and we scheduled the procedure two weeks out. 

As luck would have it, I got pregnant before I went in for that procedure. Yay! But now we had another big decision to make. Knowing that my due date was likely after my 40th birthday, we had to choose whether to go with the perceived safety of a conventional birth or to follow my heart for a home birth. I split the difference, choosing a birth center a mere five minutes from the hospital, should any complications arise.

The stars aligned and I had a textbook birth, in a tub, on my terms. But I never would have made that choice if I didn’t have access to BGH’s OB care as a back-up. In fact, I likely never would have tried to start a family knowing that all my prenatal appointments were over an hour away. 

Amy Sutliff

I have three beautiful sons, all of which I gave birth to at Bonner General. My first-born son was delivered by Dr. Bowden. Dr. Algoe delivered my second son and Dr. Conner delivered my third son. Dr. Huntsberger provided me with incredible prenatal care, information and constant reassurance through the pandemic while pregnant. 

Dr. Gilbert and Dr. DeLand were my pediatricians growing up. They are also the pediatric docs that did follow-up care for my children and remained their pediatricians all these years. 

For me, it was so much more than a place to deliver my babies. Some of the nurses are the moms of the kids I grew up with, like Marilyn Becker. Much of the other staff and doctors are my friends and colleagues. 

Bonner General is a place that I felt safe and familiar in. This is a loss that is far greater than what is on the surface. This is a family that our community will not be the same without. 

Barbara Schriber

When pregnant with my second son, I was 35 and it was considered a geriatric pregnancy, so I had the suggested genetic screening. The results came back “positive,” indicating an increased possibility of the baby being born with Down syndrome. 

When I received this news, I was scared, confused and unsure of what to do. Dr. Owens sat down with me and discussed the possible reasons for a positive test, which were not all a diagnosis of DS. 

When she explained I could have an amniocentesis to confirm DS, she also informed me of the increased risk of miscarriage from the procedure. She then asked me if this would change anything about my decision to move forward with my pregnancy. I said no, and Dr. Owens worked with me to create a plan to monitor the health of my pregnancy. I would go into BGH once a week for a screening, followed by an office visit with Dr. Algoe to go over the results. My healthy son was born at 40 weeks at BGH. 

I’ve had two sons at BGH and am so grateful for the wonderful care I received. The doctors, nurses, lactation consultant and other staff all helped me with those first few days of motherhood that are full of love, fear and fatigue. They helped with the indignities of postpartum care: the mesh panties and pads, the first trip to the bathroom and the care of engorged breasts. 

I don’t know what I would have done without their patience, guidance and kindness. 

Linda Larson

A first pregnancy as a woman who worries for a hobby was challenging. I chose to have my child in a hospital close to home because I was scared. I wanted to be in a place where the experts had all of their tools ready in case something went wrong. I also wanted to have a natural, home birth-like experience. Bonner General gave me both of those things.

In 1991, Dr. Honsinger had a nurse midwife in his practice and she was with me during the birth of my daughter. The birthing suite was a large room overlooking Sand Creek. My mother and husband were there. I was allowed to move around, spend time in the shower, walk the halls, moan and rest in any way that I needed to. What I didn’t know during my labor was that my baby was in the occiput posterior position, meaning my baby’s head was facing the wrong direction. This increased my chances of needing an emergency C-section.

I’m grateful that no one told me about this issue while I was in labor. I’m also grateful that the hospital had the staff and training to deliver my baby by C-section if that had been required.

Instead, my baby turned her head at the last minute and emerged into a world of colorful sunrise rays shining softly into the room. My baby was beautiful, strong and healthy.

I will never forget the magical sunrise beaming into our room, which overlooked the water and trees below. My baby was born in Sandpoint, her hometown. She was born at Bonner General Health in a safe, supportive environment, where emergency care was available just down the hall. I am deeply saddened for all of the mothers who no longer have this option.

Kelli Burt

I had both my sons at BGH. My first son was due in mid-August; but, at my 36-week appointment, we found out he had stopped growing in utero. I went from a very mellow, uncomplicated pregnancy to a higher-risk situation in an instant. 

I had daily check-ins and tests to make sure he was still OK. During these tests, my OBs were so reassuring and empathetic. We decided it was best to schedule an induction on a Monday morning. Before that, my husband and I had decided to go to see Sam Bush at the Hive that Saturday night and try to dance the baby out. I succeeded. 

My water broke at the start of the show, and we danced the night away before driving the three blocks over to BGH. My nurses were hilarious, kind, attentive and made the most lasting impression. 

Baby R was born after 24 hours of labor and was a tiny but mighty five pounds. My OB was gentle, thoughtful and made my birthing experience so beautiful. We needed to stay in the hospital a few extra days for jaundice and to watch his weight. 

The doctors and nurses went out of their way to be kind to a worried new mother. The whole experience could have been traumatic, but the care I received made it peaceful. Our hearts break for this loss to our community.

Emma Stanford

My first child was born at home, 40 minutes outside of Sandpoint, with two licensed midwives, a midwife’s assistant and my coached husband attending. My daughter entered this world that day without incident, and it really was a dreamy birth experience.

When I became pregnant again, one of my midwives had left the country and the other was no longer seeing patients. I found out I was going to miscarry. I was devastated at the thought of losing my angel baby, and I chose to miscarry at home without any medication to speed up the process. I trusted my body as I had trusted it when I gave birth at home. 

This time, however, I was alone in the countryside, screaming and bleeding, while my 2-year-old daughter — eyes big as harvest moons — held my hand. I had foolishly told my husband to stay at work, make that money, I’d be fine. All the while, I was pretty damn sure this was how I was going to die. 

In the end, I lost so much blood I ended up having an emergency D&C at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene. Due to COVID restrictions, not even my husband was allowed to stay with me during those eight agonizing hours in the ER.

It was after this, after setting up a payment plan with the Kootenai Health billing department — with nothing but an aching womb to show for my $9,000 bill — that I lost some of the confidence in my body to complete the tasks I asked of it. And when I finally became pregnant with my son, I decided the safest route was to give birth at Bonner General. 

My body came through again for me during that pregnancy, but the corporeal trust I regained was due in part to my hospital surroundings. And now that those surroundings are disappearing, I can only wonder: What will other women do?

Ana Sigler

My daughter was born in January of this year. Throughout my pregnancy and into my delivery, I felt so safe in the arms of the OBs and nurses at Sandpoint Women’s Health. Dr. Morton coached me throughout pregnancy, and hers were the first hands to hold my baby in this world. 

There could have been complications with my pregnancy and delivery, but everything went smoothly due to their attention to my and my daughter’s well-being. 

I had always been afraid of hospitals, but this experience changed me for the better. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience at BGH. 

I will tell my daughter for years how loved she was in the hands of staff at that hospital. I had planned to encourage others, for years to come, to trust the women at BGH to deliver their babies. I’m heartbroken knowing our story will be a thing of the past.

Jen Jackson Quintano, who compiled the stories for this article, writes “The Lumberjill” column in the Sandpoint Reader. She also organized The Pro-Voice Project in Sandpoint, which in January 2023 presented on stage a story collection of women’s reproductive choices. Learn more at theprovoiceproject.com. See more of Quintano’s writing at jenjacksonquintano.com.

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