New Brunswick

Expectant parents stressed by ongoing closure of Bathurst obstetrics unit

Bathurst, N.B., couple Mélanie and Tyler Frigault are anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child - but they're also anxious about having to travel an extra hour in winter conditions to Miramichi for the delivery, thanks to the ongoing closure of the obstetrics unit at Chaleur Regional Hospital.

Vitalité Health Network CEO says unit at Chaleur Regional Hospital could reopen in a couple of months

Tyler and Mélanie Frigault are expecting their first child in two weeks but with the obstetrics unit still closed at the Chaleur Regional Hospital, they will have to deliver in Miramichi. (Submitted by Mélanie Frigault )

With their first child expected in just two weeks, Bathurst, N.B., couple Mélanie and Tyler Frigault are anxiously counting the days.

But Mélanie Frigault is also getting anxious about the possibility of going into labour and having to travel to Miramichi to deliver her baby.

"We have to drive an extra hour just to get to the hospital," she said. "Plus winter conditions, storm conditions and that's just the reality of the climate here." 

Frigault's husband works an hour out of town, so she's also worried he won't get to the hospital on time - when the time comes.

The obstetrics unit at the Chaleur Regional Hospital closed on Nov. 5 and health officials say it will remain so until further notice.

"It's kind of disappointing that we can't start our family in our hometown, especially when the services are here," said Frigault.

The Vitalité Health Network blames a lack of nurses for the closure.

Part of birth

Frigault had hoped the obstetrics team of nurses and doctors, which she describes as "great" and "helpful" throughout her pregnancy, would be a part of the birth as well. 

"Now it's more of a stress than anything else," she said. "I find it heartbreaking that we can't finish this journey with the people that we started with." 

Bathurst Mayor Paolo Fongemie said expectant parents have told him they are concerned about the added stress of travelling to another hospital to deliver their babies. (CBC)
​Bathurst Mayor Paolo Fongemie reached out on social media to find out how many people were affected by the unit's closure. 

"I was bombarded by a lot of private messages from young women," he said. "Yes, they are concerned and it's another level of anxiety to add to a new experience of them giving birth." 

The mayor said the unit's closure is not just affecting the Bathurst region, but also the Acadian Peninsula.   

"The province closed all the obstetric untis in the past and centralized all the services in Bathurst and now in Bathurst we can't offer that service and we don't know when it's going to be restored." 

'Lose confidence'

The mayor said one woman told him she was asked to make arrangements with Miramichi to have her baby delivered there in January while others are going ahead and doing it on their own. 

"I felt people were starting to lose confidence," he said. "It's a very unfortunate situation but there has to be a solution that comes forward, it's hurting the whole north."

The obstetrics unit at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst has been closed since late October. (Vitalité Health Network)
While all new mothers told the mayor they had received excellent care in their language of choice in Miramichi, it was still stressful. 

Retention concerns

Fongemie said it's frustrating not to have an end in sight for the "temporary" closure. He's also concerned about the retention of five obstetricians who haven't been working since early November. 

"We are working hard to grow the north," Fongemie said.

"So the hospital plays a key role. It's not really reassuring that we have a key service like that that's not being offered to the population up north." 

Fongemie said he's looking forward to meeting with Gilles Lanteigne, CEO of Vitalité Health Network, in the near future. 

Lanteigne said the health network has an action plan in place to get the unit open as soon as possible. 

Three part plan

Vitalité Health Network president and CEO Gilles Lanteigne said a three-part plan will help get the obstetrics unit open as soon as possible at the Chaleur Regional Hospital. (CBC)
The plan includes recruiting, which he says has been successful in other hospitals. 

"As you know, obstetrics is a very tricky area to be in so … we're working on it." 

Lanteigne says they are expecting some staff that has been on leave to return to work soon. He added that arrangements are being made to make the unit more functional. 

The CEO said the unit had to be closed when some staff left for new opportunities and others went out on leave. He described it as a "perfect storm." 

Lanteigne said the obstetrics unit would not open until there is a solid plan in place. 

"We're certainly hoping we can open in a couple of months," he said. "This is an essential service and we want to provide the moms of the whole region with the quality care that is safe. As soon as we have that we'll communicate it."