Kitchener-Waterloo

Ontario pledges $28M to expand midwifery services

Ontario's Health Minister Christine Elliott has announced an additional $28 million this year for midwifery services across the province. The announcement was made Monday in St. Jacobs.

Funding will support new grads, help clinics upgrade technology: Elliott

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Monday an additional $28 million for midwifery care across the province. She said that brings the government's investment into midwives to $178 million this year. Also at the announcement was Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The Ontario government has pledged $28 million to expand midwifery services throughout the province.

The announcement was made Monday in St. Jacobs by Minister of Health Christine Elliott.

"Midwives are an essential part of our public healthcare system," Elliott told reporters, adding that midwives promote best practices that lead to higher breastfeeding rates, fewer medical interventions and shorter hospital stays.

The province is also expanding midwives' scope of practice to allow them to prescribe more medications, Elliott said.

Elliott said this change will make better use of midwives' training, and reduce patient wait times for medication and therapies.

Where the money goes

The funding will support up to 90 new midwifery graduates as they enter the field, increase access to culturally-appropriate midwifery care by expanding Indigenous midwifery programs and help midwives update the technology in their clinics, Elliott said.

Elliott said in a release the additional funding will mean more families "will be able to access quality care from a midwife during pregnancy, labour and birth, as well as six weeks of support once their baby is born."

In Waterloo region, it will mean an additional $1.2 million this year for local midwives. The announcement also included continued funding for a pilot program for midwifery care at Mount Sinai Academic Family Health Team, in Toronto. 

Elliott said that the $28 million announcement means the Ontario government provided $178 million for midwifery care in the province this year, which helped 35,000 families.

Janessa Otto is a registered midwife at St. Jacobs Midwives. She said in the release she hears from families that "they value and depend on our services."

She said she hoped the funding announced "will allow greater access to midwifery care in our region."

Need more investment, says association

The Association of Ontario Midwives applauded the funding expansion in a news release, calling it a "critical" step in improving access to midwifery, and noting that four in 10 people who require midwifery services are turned away because of a provider shortage.

"However, investments must also extend to providers to ensure fairness and sustainability," the release said, noting that recent provincial cuts to the College of Midwives have resulted in greater fees being shouldered by front-line care providers.

In the fall of 2018, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said it would no longer provide operational grants to the college. 

In response to questions Monday about this funding cut, Elliott said the College of Midwives of Ontario had been the only college receiving ministry funding, and that the change was made to bring it in line with other colleges.

She said the college had received $400,000 in temporary bridge funding to account for the change.

"We've had conversations with the College of Midwives, and they've indicated they already have a plan going forward so their existence is not threatened in any way," she said.

Midwives' association president Elizabeth Brandeis also pointed to a ruling last year by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, which determined that the government had discriminated against midwives based on gender.

Brandeis said she wants to see midwives' pay brought into a comparable range with that of salaried family physicians and nurse practitioners. 

"As long as midwives are undervalued for the work that we do, we won't be able to continue a sustainable profession that is very challenging on the provider," she said.

"We need appropriate compensation in order to have the supports in our lives to do that work."

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