With Chilliwack maternity ward closing, expectant mothers scramble to make other plans
'Our women, they're devastated,' says midwife concerned about mothers being diverted to other cities
Fraser Health has announced the maternity ward at Chilliwack General Hospital is closing "indefinitely" in just over two weeks, leaving mothers nearing the end of their pregnancies scrambling to make new plans for delivery and midwives worried for their clients' safety.
Fraser Health said the ward will be closed June 24 because of an obstetrician staffing issue. After that, expectant mothers will be diverted to Abbotsford Regional Hospital, 33 kilometres away, or further.
Sandra Hoft, 35, is due to give birth to her second child — a girl — in about eight weeks. She's anticipating a quick labour after delivering her first daughter last year less than three hours after her first contraction.
"I said to my midwife, 'If mums were like me with my first ... they'll never make it,'" Hoft said Friday. "I barely made it. I was there for 12 minutes before I delivered."
A short labour is so likely for Hoft that her obstetrician is recommending she be induced ahead of her due date to ensure she'll be in a controlled hospital setting for delivery.
Concerns raised over potential for further diversions
With Chilliwack off the table, Hoft said induction would likely happen in Abbotsford unless they're diverting patients too. Abbotsford is often at capacity without extra patients coming from Chilliwack.
Mothers diverted from Chilliwack could be diverted again — as far as Langley, Surrey or Vancouver — if Abbotsford doesn't have room. Those hospitals are between 60 and 100 kilometres away, raising concern about the potential for deliveries on the side of the highway.
"Our women, they're devastated," Hoft's midwife, Natasha Oglesby, said over the phone on Friday. "My biggest concern here is that the powers that be [health officials] ... haven't even considered the safety implications here."
Fraser Health said in an email that it has no further comment on the ward closure beyond a notice posted on its website.
Oglesby, like other local midwives, doesn't have medical privileges outside of Chilliwack or Abbotsford. If her patients leave those cities, she can't follow and the women lose continuity of care.
Hoft said delivering without your familiar medical team would be "terrifying."
"Labour in and of itself is a situation where there's lots of uncertainty ... But the one thing you should be able to count on is who's in the room with you, delivering your baby. And now we can't even count on that," she said.
"You will show up and deliver your baby with who knows who. That's a very scary thought for a lot of moms."
Chilliwack maternity ward services a large area
Oglesby said the Chilliwack maternity ward sees women from all over the eastern Fraser Valley and Fraser Canyon.
"We've been told to imagine there's a lock on the maternity ward. If there's an emergency and the baby is crowning, they'll deliver in emergency," said Oglesby, who owns the Maternity Tree pregnancy care centre in Chilliwack.
Even then, she said, doctors in emergency rooms aren't always trained to handle complications that can arise during childbirth.
"We're told [those doctors are] doing a course this week. Well, the mere undertaking of a course doesn't mean they're competent," said Oglesby.
Oglesby said she and her colleague offered some replacement services for low-risk births at the Chilliwack hospital until the maternity ward reopens. They would handle low-risk deliveries, with a transfer plan in place for when complications arise — as is the case with planned home births.
The midwife said Fraser Health declined the offer, but both she and Hoft hope the authority will reconsider.
"We're just asking the powers to be to think outside the box for this period of time. Surely, the risk of having a low-risk birthing unit is less than the risk of putting these women potentially on the road," Oglesby said.
"I don't know why they wouldn't do it," said Hoft.