With only three obstetricians in Chilliwack, it was only a matter of time before there was a scheduling conflict.
One of those three doctors is on an unexpected medical leave, and another has holidays plans for July, meaning Chilliwack General Hospital cannot safely operate their maternity ward for a period of about one month. The three doctors normally rotate to provide around-the-clock coverage to expectant mothers in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and the Hope area.
While many births take place safely with a family doctor and nursing staff, that can change quickly as labour progresses. Obstetricians can get called in for any kind of complication, including emergency Cesarean sections.
The temporary closure doesn’t just affect expectant mothers, but ripples throughout the local obstetrics system, from maternity nurses and their specialized skill set, to midwifery practices. It also highlights the importance of Fraser Health needing a back-up plan that keeps the moms and babies at the forefront.
Daina Meakes, co-owner of Chilliwack Midwifery, says the lack of a back-up obstetrician puts “a big demand on everyone.” She notes that there are local physicians who may be temporarily losing their patients to doctors in Abbotsford, and highly-trained maternity nurses who are being shuffled around the system.
She says their patients are worried about how and where they will deliver their babies.
“I have patients texting me, asking me ‘what am I going to do?’” she says. “I had one that said, ‘I had my last baby in an hour.’”
A fast delivery means critical labouring time could be spent in transit rather than in the safety and comfort of a maternity ward, with her midwife. And while midwives are fully capable of handling emergencies, they handle all deliveries with a back-up safety plan in place, with plenty of communication with the mother’s chosen hospital.
Even with home births, the hospital knows if a mother is labouring at home. The midwife keeps the maternity ward and obstetrician in the loop, and alerts them when the baby is born.
With the closure of the Chilliwack maternity ward, the next closest hospital is Abbotsford. Thankfully, Meakes says, they have hospital privileges there, but no further. And that could mean that in high volume delivery times, they will lose their patient to Langley or elsewhere.
A solution is needed now, she says.
“Even just a locum for a short time, to help while (the one doctor) recovers,” she says.
“With a volume shift there is more chance of diversion to Abbotsford, to Langley or further, and from there we can’t follow our patients,” she says. “We would lose our patients and that continuity of care.”
The need for obstetricians is not a shock to anyone in the system, she says. The three in Chilliwack all have very busy practices, and Chilliwack is growing year by year.
“The long term solution is, we need a new obstetrician.”
She says the real question is what the province can do for Chilliwack General, or what Fraser Health is willing to do.
“There are loan forgiveness grants, but that’s all about determining whether this hospital is worth it,” she says of the health authority. “It’s an investment in the community, and it’s growing. They need to look at ‘what can we do to entice a new obstetrician to improve the landscape.’”