Confederation College and Sioux Lookout hospital plan to launch a new program to help hundreds of First Nations women and their new babies every year.
Starting next year, they will train more than 30 maternal support workers in northwestern Ontario.
Officials say it will be a positive change for the more than 400 women who leave their remote communities to give birth at Sioux Lookout's Meno Ya Win Health Centre.
They wait in a hostel next to the hospital — often for weeks — to go into labour.
Chief of staff and family doctor Terry O'Driscoll described what happened to one 18-year-old expectant mother: "She was on her own, she was afraid, she was crying."
Unless it's a higher-risk pregnancy, or the mother-to-be is under 16, there's no travel funding for family members to accompany them.
"I can't think of a worse ... way to ... welcome your baby into the world than being alone like that,” O'Driscoll said.
"You're asking people to leave their homes, to leave their families, to come to a centre to and sit for a couple of weeks, up to a month potentially, to wait and have their baby. Away from other kids they might have at home ... and potentially even away from their spouse."
Easing isolation and fear
It is hoped the new maternal support workers based at the Sioux Lookout hospital will alleviate that isolation and fear.
The program will also train at least one maternal support worker in each of the 28 First Nation communities in the region, who will help prepare expectant mothers before they leave for the hospital. In addition, the workers will provide any support they need in caring for the new babies when they return home.
About 450 babies are born every year in Sioux Lookout .
The vice-president of Regional Workforce Development at Confederation College says the school is in the process of developing the program in conjunction with the Meno Ya Win Health Centre as well as the Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board.
"I think it's an incredible opportunity," Don Bernosky said, adding the program is the first of its kind in Ontario and one of the first of its kind in Canada.