Renfrew hospital to close birthing unit

The Renfrew Victoria Hospital plans to close its birthing unit as neighbouring hospitals in rural Ontario also make significant cuts.

Decision comes following significant cuts at neighbouring rural hospitals

Renfrew Victoria Hospital is just one of many rural hospitals in Eastern Ontario to make cuts. 2:36

The Renfrew Victoria Hospital plans to close its birthing unit in June, leaving expectant mothers to travel a lot further to give birth.

Seven nurses will be laid off when the obstetrics unit, which includes two beds and a birthing room, shuts down.

The move comes as rural hospitals across eastern Ontario have cut beds and services in an effort to save money.

Lee Ann Somerville, who has been a nurse at the Renfrew hospital for 40 years, said expectant mothers will now have to drive to Almonte or Pembroke to give birth. Both towns are about 60 kilometres from Renfrew.

"I can only imagine, if I was in labour and knowing that I had to drive another 45 minutes or more," Somerville said. "It would probably be very nerve-wracking."

Somerville, who is also the local union representative, said some women will have to switch doctors midway through their pregnancies as a result of the closure.

"Normally, whenever you go through a pregnancy, you really want to follow through with one doctor. And now they'll probably have a combination of doctors," she said.

Number of hospital births dropped by half

The Renfrew Victoria Hospital said in a statement that the closure was due to a shortage of trained physicians and a declining number of births. 

There were 123 births between 2006 and 2007, but that number dropped to 58 between 2011 and 2012.

"We are sad to be closing the unit but, after factoring in all the issues involved, it is ultimately the best course of action," the statement said.

The hospital said the decision to close the unit was not financial. It will continue to deliver babies in emergency situations.

Hospital cuts across eastern Ontario

Hospitals in Arnprior, Perth and Smith Falls have also cut beds and services in the last year. 

Somerville said the cuts are tough on rural communities.

"It's an erosion of services that maybe you don't think about it right now, that it's needed. But it is needed," she said. "What about the next person? What about my daughter who's hoping to have a family, too?"

Melissa Leavoy gave birth to her son at the Ottawa Hospital five months ago because of complications. She said she had hoped to deliver her next child in Renfrew.

Leavoy said giving birth far from home is only part of the challenge — expectant mothers will also have to travel for appointments. 

"It's very inconvenient for any new mother who wants to give birth here," she said.