B.C. midwives speak out after too many expectant mothers forced to divert while in labour

A group of midwives in British Columbia are speaking out saying the province is in the midst of a maternity crisis.

Two midwives told CTV News that across the province, expectant mothers are being forced to travel to a different community to deliver their babies, because their planned hospital cannot accommodate them.

“It seems to be a lack of forward thinking and planning for capacity,” said one midwife who works in the Fraser Health region, who asked to remain anonymous when speaking with CTV News.

“The Fraser Health authority says they strive for the best care possible. But when you have a plan with your care provider and show up to the hospital to give birth, only to be told to go to a different hospital, I don’t think that’s the best care possible. At Surrey Memorial, mothers are diverted almost daily.”

The Semiahmoo Midwifery, a clinic based in South Surrey, B.C., recently posted to Instagram, outlining what they call a maternity crisis.

They say a lack of beds, nurses and pediatricians, has led to diversions at every hospital in the Fraser Health region, even when expectant moms are in labour.

In 2020, the Semiahmoo Midwifery clinic delivered 212 babies, it confirms 56 were diverted.

The outcry comes as Peace Arch hospital announced it was closing its maternity ward from July 8 to the 19, citing what the Fraser Health Authority called a "temporary gap in pediatrician coverage."

Those who have pre-existing plans to deliver at Peace Arch, located in White Rock, are being told instead to go to Langley Memorial Hospital, about 20 kilometres away.

Fraser Health confirmed patient diversion to other hospitals is not an unusual event.

“We’re aware it’s very upsetting for families who were planning for their delivery at their own hospital but we obviously have to prioritize safety,” said Dr. Michael Smith, a pediatrician who primarily works at Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody and Royal Columbian in New Westminster.

“We have had recruitment issues with pediatricians at Peach Arch for some time. Unfortunately, that has a significant effect on maternity services because we always want the pediatricians available when babies are born."

Smith said pediatricians are difficult recruit, especially when it is a smaller hospital, like Peach Arch.

“Most pediatricians like to be busy. They like to do baby care and older children care as well. With Peace Arch just having a small maternity unit and only having 800 births a year and only newborn work, it’s hard to attract doctors to do that very small segment of care," Smith said.

A weeks notice was given for this extended shutdown at Peace Arch but regardless of how much time midwives and maternity patients have to prepare, a diversion always causes stress and anxiety, according to Jennie Lucow, a midwife with Semiahomoo Midwifery.

“We recently had an issue where a mother was diverted and almost didn’t make it to Langley. She proceeded to have a very large hemorrhage that would have been extremely dangerous for her to have in the car,” said Lucow.

“It’s a huge safety concern for us. We’ve had clients sent to Burnaby while they’re in labour, we’ve even had discussions if we need to send people to Squamish, because there is quite literally not a single bed available within Fraser Health."

There have been times when diversion is too late. Lucow said if expectant mothers are more than six centimetres dilated, they are forced to give birth in triage with multiple patients around them, only separated by a curtain.

Lucow agrees recruitment is an issue, but believes more funding from the province would solve the root of the problem. As Fraser Health’s population continues to increase, she says the capacity issue will only continue to get worse.

“I think it would be easier to attract pediatricians to smaller hospitals if there was a funded nursery or even a small pediatric clinic,” said Lucow.

A statement from the Ministry of Health acknowledged the challenge for parents when hospitals are put on maternity diversion, but for the safety of patients, the ministry said it is the only option.

“Temporary diversions are a regular operating procedure used when there is a gap in service that can be filled using B.C.’s extensive network of hospitals and health care services," the statement said.

“The Ministry of Health is continuing to work with health authorities and other partners to align the number, type and location of health-care workers to meet patient and population needs across the province.”

The ministry said it is specifically working with Fraser Health and Peace Arch hospital’s pediatrics department to stabilize services with a physician contract that will support a full pediatrics service.