Ottawa

Pontiac Hospital's birthing unit closed for at least 6 months

The Outaouais health authority announced Friday that the obstetrics department at Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que., is closed for at least the next six months.

The obstetrics unit in Shawville had been struggling with staffing shortages

The birthing unit at Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que., will close for at least six months starting on Friday. (CBC)

The Outaouais health authority announced Friday that the obstetrics department at Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que., is closed for at least the next six months.

The birthing and maternal care unit has struggled with staffing shortages in the last year. Since August, it's had to close 14 times.

There are currently only three nurses trained in obstetrics, whereas it would take 12 to provide comprehensive and safe care for mothers and babies in the Pontiac, according to Le Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de l'Outaouais.

"It is unthinkable to continue, as in recent months, with openings and closings," said Josée Filion, president and CEO of CISSS de l'Outaouais, in French during a press briefing on Friday.

"This creates anxiety for expectant mothers and their families."

During the extended closure, mothers can receive pregnancy monitoring from their doctor or midwife; however, for births they would need to travel to the Gatineau Hospital or at the Outaouais Birthing Centre.

Closure not permanent: health authority 

Filion says CISSS plans to rebuild the obstetrics team and intends to resume birth and maternal care at the Pontiac Hospital in the future.

"I want to be clear, it's a break. It is not final," she said.

Filion hopes as new nurses graduate in the spring, more of them will chose to work in Shawville. The goal is to have eight nurses working by September.

André Fortin, the MNA for Pontiac and Liberal health critic, said in learning of the closure made him "furious."

"CISSS and the minister of health have known about this situation for months," he said in French on Friday.

"We must improve the working conditions of nurses in the Outaouais and particularly in the Pontiac."

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann responded in a news release Friday afternoon.

"Rest assured, we have no intention of abandoning the Pontiac mothers; we will support the CISSSO and the staff so that the obstetrics service can be rebuilt on solid foundations and maintained over the long term," the release stated.

The minister responsible for the Outaouais region described the closure as a "courageous decision" by the CISSS de l'Outaouais.

"It is not the ideal scenario, but it is the best scenario under the circumstances…. We cannot leave the women of the Pontiac in a state of uncertainty," said Papineau MNA Mathieu Lacombe in French.

with files from Radio-Canada's Laurie Trudel

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