NDP health critic looking at rural maternity care

Up until 2008, doctors delivered babies at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital

NDP MLA Jennifer Rice

NDP MLA Jennifer Rice

Up until 2008, doctors delivered babies at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital.

Up to 80 babies per year were born in the hospital.

Last year about 40 babies were born from Clearwater and area. Nearly all of them were delivered in Kamloops, although a handful were delivered with midwives and/or home-birthed.

Those were some of the statistics gathered by Jennifer Rice, the New Democrat critic for northern and rural health during a visit with local health care professionals on Thursday, March 31.

The MLA for North Coast and resident of Prince Rupert was at the start of a province-wide tour to hear from parents, advocates and service providers about access to maternity care.

“One of the biggest issues I hear about when talking about rural health is timely access to maternal health,” Rice said.

“Expectant mothers in rural B.C. often find themselves having to travel long distances to see doctors, midwives or obstetricians, or for ultrasounds or other basic services that women in larger centres take for granted. If their pregnancy is high risk, those appointments are even more frequent, and the stress and travel time are even greater,” she added.

Bringing back birthing to Clearwater’s hospital would face some challenges.

“Gone are the days when the family doctor could do anything,” she said.

To perform a birth in a hospital today would require at least three health care professionals: a doctor with surgical qualifications, an anaesthetist, and a nurse with special training.

In order for doctors to maintain their qualifications to perform a C-section (caesarian), they must perform a certain number per year.

“How do you do that in a rural setting? It’s just not practical,” Rice said.

The NDP health critic felt the challenge really is medicalized child birth.

“There are just so many precautions brought in,” she said. “However, we’ve been having babies for thousands of years.”

While there are benefits to going to a regional centre for childbirth, there are drawbacks as well. The child and mother might not have the support network they would have closer to home, such as husband, family and friends.

Another complication that she had not realized before was that, for some First Nations groups, being born in their home territory is an important part of the birthing process.

Haida Gwai, for example, has 40 to 60 births per year but Queen Charlotte Hospital has no C-section backup.

That means that, if a hospital birth is required, the mothers must go to Prince Rupert or Vancouver at least four weeks before the due date.

There are two midwives on the islands and, if the pregnancy is low risk, the mothers can make the “informed choice” to have their babies closer to home.

Staff at the hospital practice with dolls and dummies so that they are as prepared as they can be if there is an emergency.

After her visit to Clearwater, Rice travelled to Ashcroft and then Quesnel. She also will visit Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Bella Bella, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson and the Peace River Valley on her tour.

“It looks like a lot of driving. I’ve not spent a lot of time in the Interior of B.C., so I’m looking forward to it,” she said.