'It's completely shocking': Expectant mothers in Williams Lake have to relocate to give birth

Interior Health has announced pregnant women in the Cariboo will no longer be able to access obstetrical services at the hospital in Williams Lake for the time being, due to a critical shortage of maternity nurses.

The hospital has a critical shortage of maternity nurses

Williams Lake mother Shay Dahl gave birth to her 19-month-old son, Ziggy, while on evacuation during the 2017 wildfires. Once again, she has to relocate to give birth to her second baby. (Shay Dahl)

Interior Health has announced pregnant women in the Cariboo will no longer be able to access obstetrical services at the hospital in Williams Lake for the time being, due to a critical shortage of maternity nurses.

Expectant mothers will have to relocate to hospitals in other communities, such as Kamloops or Prince George.

"While we'd hoped to avoid any interruptions to these services, at this time it's the best option," said David Matear, executive director at Interior Health West. "We have all of the protocols in place to make [it] a seamless process."

After patients visit their physicians, Interior Health will facilitate accommodation, transportation, and reimbursement of food costs, Matear told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

"For March, we're expecting around 30 deliveries," he said.

Emotional stress

Williams Lake mother Shay Dahl is 36 weeks into her 40-week pregnancy and has to decide by Monday where she will relocate.

She first found out about the changes in services in a Facebook group for Williams Lake moms.

Shay Dahl will have to travel to either Kelowna or Prince George with her son Ziggy to give birth to her second child, while her husband Lee stays in Williams Lake to work.

"It's completely shocking," Dahl told Daybreak Kamloops' Jenifer Norwell. "It's pretty stressful emotionally."

Dahl said she is still deciding between Kelowna and Prince George, because she has family in both cities.

"Traveling means me going alone, so that my husband can stay and work. So, it's going to be a little scary for me."

2nd relocation

This isn't the first time, Dahl has had to have her baby in another city. In 2017, her 19-month-old son, Ziggy, was born while they were evacuated during wildfire season.

"I joked that at least this baby wouldn't be born during fire season ... and we'd have a calm smooth delivery in our hometown. But now it's completely changed," said Dahl. 

"It's really stressful when you're this far along to have your plans changed like that so suddenly. But, I mean, we got to do what we have to do to keep our babies safe."

'Hardship on mothers'

B.C. Liberal Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA and Opposition critic for rural development Donna Barnett said she was shocked when Interior Health informed her of the temporary suspension of services.

"I would have thought there would have been some long-term planning," said Barnett. "This is such a hardship on mothers and families."

She added 100 Mile House doesn't have a maternity ward either, because there isn't an anaesthetist.

"This is a huge issue and I hope it's resolved very quickly."

Recruiting nurses

Matear said Interior Health is trying to recruit more nurses and that seven general nursing staff members at Cariboo Memorial Hospital are getting specialty training for obstetrics. 

Two of the staff members are expected to graduate from the program in June. He said June is the longest they expect obstetrical services to be suspended at the hospital.

"I think once people come [to Williams Lake], they realize what a great place it is and are prepared to stay but to try to recruit in from external areas has been challenging," said Matear. 

"We will continue to recruit both nationally and internationally and also explore options within Interior Health."

Interior Health announced that pregnant women in the Cariboo will no longer be able to access obstetrical services at the hospital in Williams Lake for the time being, due to a critical shortage of maternity nurses. 6:05

with files from Jenifer Norwell and Daybreak Kamloops

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