Coming cuts to health services for newborns, moms 'staggering,' nurses union says

Newborn babies and moms will be put at risk by the latest round of health-care system cuts, says the union representing Manitoba's nurses.

Lactation consultation program at HSC to end as WRHA moves to 'new service model'

The Manitoba Nurses Union says upcoming cuts to women's health services will put moms and newborns at risk. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

Newborn babies and moms will be put at risk by the latest round of health-care system cuts, says the union representing Manitoba's nurses. 

The Manitoba Nurses Union said that lactation consultation services at Winnipeg's largest hospital will be discontinued, at a date yet to be announced. 

"They are attempting to save money, so basically they're saving money at the expense of patients, and I would argue, women," MNU president Sandi Mowat said. 

As well, a health centre for mature women at another hospital is being shut down as of mid-October, the union said. 

Lactation consultants at Health Sciences Centre provide breastfeeding and after-birth care and education to new moms, Mowat said.

"Mothers depend on lactation consultants. These nurses have specialized training in postpartum care. The decision to cut this service puts mothers and their newborns at risk," Mowat said in a statement. 

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said two lactation consultant positions at Women's Hospital are affected, but the authority believes there will still be jobs for all nurses who wish to stay with the WRHA. 

The changes are part of a move to a "new service model," the authority indicated in a statement. 

Women who choose to breastfeed will still get supports but those will now be provided by nurses working on postpartum wards, WRHA spokeswoman Bronwyn Penner Holigroski said. 

"These nurses will work with a clinical nurse specialist and an educator to build upon their existing skills and knowledge to provide this service to patients," she said. 

Nurse worried about loss of 'close care'

Courtney Sawatsky, who works as a registered nurse at HSC and its associated Women's Hospital, says the lactation consultant cuts have left her concerned about patient care. 

"I don't understand how they can say they're healing the health-care system and putting patients first when the first thing that they do is cut front-line staff," she said. 

The loss of the dedicated lactation consultants means moms lose the "close care" that helps ensure child health and other benefits obtained through moms breastfeeding their babies, Sawatsky said.

While many of the nurses on the postpartum ward have lactation consultant accreditation, nurse-patient ratios are climbing, meaning less time for personal care, she said. 

"Those patients just are not going to get the same level of care if we don't have lactation consultants. If that's taken away …  it really is putting babies and moms at risk and it's just going to extend hospital stays, which is more expensive anyway," said Sawatsky. 

Health centre to be shut down: Union

The Mature Women's Health Centre, based out of Victoria Hospital in south Winnipeg, sees 5,000 patients a year and gets 3,000 calls, Mowat said. It's expected to shut down as of Oct. 10.

The centre deals with gynecological issues, menopause transition and other services to women between the ages of 20-40 "who are experiencing unique, premature gynecological issues," the MNU says.

The cuts described by the MNU come on the heels of others in Winnipeg's health care system.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced this week it would shut down four out of five QuickCare clinics and move in-house patient physiotherapy and occupational therapy services out of hospitals and into private-practice clinics by mid-October.

That move is expected to save the health region $5 million between 2017 and 2019.

The changes to QuickCare, physiotherapy and occupational therapy were described as part of the WRHA's broad belt-tightening measures.

It hopes to save $83 million in its budget to meet a cost-saving mandate handed down by the provincial government.

CBC has requested comment from the WRHA on the MNU's announcement. 

Full coverage of health cuts in Manitoba