British Columbia

Families in Fort Nelson renew calls for maternity services at their local hospital

For the last nine years, expectant mothers in Fort Nelson, B.C., have been told to leave the northern town to deliver their babies at a bigger hospital — and there's no end in sight.

Expectant mothers told to leave the community a month before their due dates because of limited resources

Rebecca Landry had to leave Fort Nelson to give birth to her first child. She is now pregnant with her second child and is worried about leaving again. (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

Expectant mothers in one of B.C.'s most northerly communities still have to leave town to deliver their babies nine years after the Northern Health authority began advising them to go elsewhere.

That's because Fort Nelson's hospital didn't have the staff or resources to properly care for patients and finally closed its maternity ward in 2012.

Despite complaints to the province's Northern Health authority, mothers in Fort Nelson are still advised to seek a bigger, better equipped hospital a month before their due dates. That usually means a 400-kilometre trek to Fort St. John where a hospital with proper maternity resources is located.

Many mothers spend weeks living away from homes at their own expense.

Financial strain on families

Tracey Muise of Fort Nelson had to stay in a camper in Fort St. John for a month leading up to the birth of her son. 

"It was a little frightening. Being by myself you never really know what's going to happen. We didn't have a lot of people that were camping at the same time that I was. So often I was completely by myself through the night." Muise told Carolina de Ryk, host of Daybreak North.  

Tracey Muise of Fort Nelson had to stay in a camper in Fort St. John for a month leading up to the birth of her son.  (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

Muise says it was also stressful for her to not know the doctor who would be performing the delivery.

"If you're in another location, ... you have the basic resources that the average Canadian has."

Parents told de Ryk that many fathers are unable to be with their partners at the time of birth due to their jobs.

"I'm stressed out for my family and I couldn't imagine what my wife feels. You know, the stress on her ultimately goes on the baby," said Chris Hall, a father of two.

Parents told de Ryk that it can cost a family up to $20,000 to relocate for a birth, all out of pocket. 

It takes approximately four hours to drive between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson under good conditions. During winter months the trip becomes more treacherous. (Google Maps)

Williams Lake comparison

In February, mothers in Williams Lake in B.C.'s central Interior had to temporarily relocate to a hospital further south to give birth. Interior Health suspended obstetrical services in the community because of a critical shortage of maternity nurses.

Yet Interior Health provided funding for those families to temporarily relocate. The health authority also placed five nurses into accelerated training in Kamloops in April so that maternity services could resume at the Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake. 

Dan Davies, MLA for Peace River North, is unhappy that Northern Health has not responded in a similar fashion. He wants to see action from the province.

Davies says he has spoken with the minister of health about maternity care in Fort Nelson.

"He needs to immediately put in place some sort of system where these families can apply to the government to offset some of the costs that they're paying out of pocket. And I don't think that's much to ask," said Davies.

Tatiana Okeski (right) and family. She had to travel out of Fort Nelson to give birth to her twins. (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

Angela De Smit, CEO of Northern Health's northeast operations, says they're developing an out-of-town travel brochure that would list options for women. She says Northern Health has also been in discussions with a private air service in Fort St. John to transport expectant mothers. 

Daybreak North reached out for comment from the B.C. government, but has not yet received a response. 

Listen to the full story here:

It's been more than seven years since Fort Nelson, B.C. last had a maternity ward, and the mothers who've had to leave home for weeks in order to give birth are tired of the lack of resources in their community. 8:00

With files by Daybreak North and Carolina de Ryk. 

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