LINCOLN, Ill. (WCIA) — Another hospital is closing its labor and delivery services, leaving one Illinois non-profit director worried about the future of healthcare for rural Illinoisans.

Lincoln Memorial Health announced earlier this week they will close their Family Maternity Suites at the end of the year.

“In past decades, there was a major demand for labor and delivery at our hospital,” LMH President and CEO Dolan Dalpoas said. “Today, that demand has decreased and our focus has shifted to providing different kinds of care that better meet the needs of our community.”

LMH is a designated “critical access hospital”; in order for the hospital to be eligible for federal funding they cannot have more than 25 beds. LMH currently has three beds allocated for its Family Maternity Suites, while averaging two babies born per week.

“By reallocating those beds to other areas, we can better meet our growing demand,” Dalpoas added.

Closing down maternity wards is a common strategy for hospitals to save money.

Pat Schou, the executive director of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network, said a majority of the state’s critical access hospitals that have had a OB unit have closed it in the past 20 years. When Schou started with ICAHN in 1999, 26 of the state’s 52 critical access hospitals had an OB unit. In 2023, only 5 will have one.

She attributes the trend to a shortage of nurses, plus the lack of financial incentives.

“They can’t afford to lose a million to $2 million every year for OB care,” Schou said.

What’s saving hospitals money means longer travel distances, however. Schou said some expecting Illinoisans could be over 50 miles away from the closest hospital with labor and delivery services.

An outcome Schou is expecting is more babies from rural places being born in emergency departments. While emergency room staff are trained and rooms are equipped for births, it’s not an ideal solution.

“It’s not the environment that you want,” Schou said. “It’s supposed to be a pleasant and happy delivery. We want healthy, happy, good babies.”

LMH said in the statement all physicians and nurses would be relocated to a different department or a different Memorial hospital. Memorial is also working with future parents with 2023 due dates who planned to deliver at LMH to find a different hospital.

Last month, OSF Sacred Heart in Danville also announced it’s temporarily closing its birthing ward and redirecting expectant people to deliver at OSF Heart of Mary in Urbana.