PEI

Islanders call on health minister for midwifery update

Islanders lobbying to have midwives regulated and allowed to practise within P.E.I.'s publicly funded health-care system are calling on the health minister to provide a new timeline for when that will happen.

Health Minister James Aylward had promised publicly funded midwifery by early 2020

An expecting mother is examined by a midwife during a home visit in Free Union, Va. (Andrew Shurtleff/AP)

Islanders lobbying to have midwives regulated and allowed to practise within P.E.I.'s publicly funded health-care system are calling on the health minister to provide a new timeline for when that will happen.

Back in 2019, Health Minister James Aylward said he hoped to see midwifery introduced by January of 2020 — at the latest. A year past the target date, it's still unclear when and how midwifery might be implemented on Prince Edward Island. 

"We'd really like to have a new timeline, to make new goals and keep the government accountable to this promise," said Sonya Rae, a member of Birth Options Research Network (BORN), P.E.I.'s midwife advocacy group. 

"I know that COVID has happened and that that has caused certain delays, but especially in the planning and consulting phase, it doesn't seem that it would be impossible to continue even during COVID."

Rae is eight months pregnant with her second child. When she and her partner were making a decision about moving to P.E.I. in 2019, access to midwifery as part of maternal health care was a major factor.

Sonya Rae and her partner were able to use a midwife leading up to, during and after the birth of first child, Felix, when they were living in Ontario. (Russell Fraser)

The family had used a midwife's services for their son's birth in Ontario — and they hoped that midwifery would be available on P.E.I. by now. 

"It was really a wonderful maternity experience," said Rae about having a midwife in Ontario. "They would take a lot of time to check in with us, see where we're at, see what our concerns are … and they really strive for informed consent before doing any kind of testing." 

Rae isn't the only Island woman left disappointed by the lack of access to midwifery services — and frustrated by the lack of information.

Lydia Wolters is carrying her fourth child, a pregnancy she timed around the promise of midwifery services being available by now. She's due in September and is disappointed that is still not an option for Island families. 

"I don't feel like it is a priority here," she said. 

"I know timelines can be hard and especially now, but it would be nice to know, like, what the goalpost is or … what are we aiming for? And even just to have a timeline to realize that they are actually working on it, that it is a priority."

Both women said they've written to the province asking for midwifery to be implemented as soon as possible in P.E.I.

Neither has received an answer to that question, they said. 

Work on model continues: department

Lydia Wolters, who is expecting a child in September, had been hoping midwifery services would be available on Prince Edward Island by now. 'I don't feel like it is a priority here,' she told CBC News. (Submitted by Lydia Wolters)

In a statement to CBC News, officials with the Department of Health and Wellness said work continues on "an eventual model of care for midwives," with that work being supported by a consultant in Newfoundland. However, it said the 10-month-old COVID-19 pandemic has made collaboration a challenge. 

The statement goes on to say that "the work to date has focused on confirming the delivery model, completing competency mapping and outlining the roles and responsibilities of midwives." 

Officials offered no firm timelines on when that work might be complete — and when midwives might be able to practise on P.E.I. 

CBC News has made numerous requests to Aylward's office for an interview with the minister on the current plan and timelines around midwifery implementation in P.E.I. but the requests have been declined. 

When Trish Altass, MLA for Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke and opposition health critic, asked about midwifery last November in the legislature, Aylward confirmed implementation had been delayed by the pandemic.

'We should have some updates'

Altass said this week that Islanders deserve an update. 

"Certainly it's reasonable to expect delays, but by November and certainly by now in February, we should have some updates on how this is moving forward," the Green Party MLA said. 

Trish Altass, MLA for Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke and opposition health critic, asked about midwifery last November in the legislature. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

The government's chosen consultant being located in Newfoundland shouldn't have posed an insurmountable obstacle, she suggested. "We had a bubble with Newfoundland for months. There's really no reason that there should be such an extreme delay or perhaps even complete stop of progress to implement midwifery." 

Prince Edward Island is currently the only province in Canada that doesn't regulate or fund midwifery. 

Alexandra Bacon is president of the Canadian Association of Midwives. (Submitted by Alexandra Bacon)

Alexandra Bacon, president of the Canadian Association of Midwives, told CBC News she too would like to hear a firm commitment from the province. She says trained midwives from this part of Canada are anxious for updates as well. 

"There are midwives from all over the Atlantic provinces who have taken jobs elsewhere while they've awaited regulation in their home communities and I imagine would welcome the opportunity to return and serve their home community," she said. 

Bacon said demand for home-based midwifery care has increased during the pandemic, with more families looking for a sense of connection and wanting to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 in doctors' offices and hospitals.

She also pointed out that midwifery could alleviate some pressure on Island hospitals and hospital staff "by keeping healthy people out of the acute-based hospital system."

Bacon said the benefits of using a midwife's service has been linked to "lower rates of preterm births, lower rates of losses at any gestational age, increased satisfaction, lower rates of caesarean section. So midwifery can help to lessen the pressure on an overburdened health system." 

More from CBC P.E.I. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

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