Alberta's long wait list for midwives has advocates asking the government to better fund alternative birthing options.
Alongside dozens of mothers and their children, representatives from the Association for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth (ASAC) gathered on the front steps of the legislature on Wednesday asking for change to the current funding model for midwives.
About 1,800 women in Alberta are currently on a wait list for care from one of the province's midwives. The government's funding cap on midwifery currently allows for 2,774 births assisted by midwives in Alberta per year.
In total, about 55,000 babies are born in Alberta each year.
The current government has been supportive in furthering midwifery funding in the province, but the funding model itself needs to be "tweaked a bit," said ASAC vice-president Jennifer Wilson.
The organization's short term goal is to clear all 1,800 names from their waiting list. But Wilson said the government needs to address funding restrictions currently in place under Alberta Health Services.
"Births are happening no matter what the funding is, so increasing that will save taxpayers in health dollars," Wilson said. "We just want to demonstrate to the government that this is a really important issue for women in our province."
Wilson said with funding currently capped on midwifery in Alberta, much-needed midwives are leaving the province to find work elsewhere.
ASAC president Dana Weatherhead said the government needs to look towards alternative sources of funding, and at providing midwives in rural and remote areas of the province where birthing centres are currently at risk of shutting down.
"Midwifery has been shown to be cost effective. We need to address the short term funding issue to allow these women and amazing care providers to be fully utilized and to have the birth of their choice," she said. "Having a choice of a care provider is not a luxury, it's a fundamental human right."
Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said AHS is in the midst of negotiations with the Alberta Association of Midwives. She said the government is looking at ways of expanding midwifery access to Albertans.
Payne said the department is reviewing the situation, but funding or changes won't likely happen within the current budget cycle.
"We know that midwifery is a choice many Alberta women are making, and with the waiting list we know there are more Alberta women who would like access to that service," Payne said. "We're looking for different ways we can help expand access in the province while still working within our limited financial means with the current fiscal situation."
Opposition Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt said it's "shocking" the province hasn't yet addressed the growing demand for birthing choices. She said because midwifery is a cost-effective alternative to hospital care, improving and growing the service should be a government priority.
"It's really just a no brainer for this province and women who live here," Pitt said. "Negotiations take time, but I think it would address some of the financial needs within our health-care system.
"And it's about choice, it's really about choice."