Sudbury

'Destructive' closure of Laurentian University's midwifery program vexes students, educator

Students and the former director of Laurentian University's school of midwifery in Sudbury, Ont., are struggling to understand why it was closed as part of the university's restructuring during the insolvency process.

Program in Sudbury, Ont., had brought midwives to northern English, French and Indigenous women since 1993

Laurentian University's midwifery program, another casualty in the school's restructuring cuts, brought child-birth services to English, French and Indigenous women since it was established in 1993 in Sudbury, part of Ontario's funding of a select few midwifery schools in the province. (Andrew Shurtleff/AP)

Students and the former director of Laurentian University's school of midwifery in Sudbury, Ont., are struggling to understand why it was closed as part of the university's restructuring.

The university has been wrapped up in insolvency hearings, and news of faculty cuts and program terminations have spread through the North since announcements began rolling out Monday. The process under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) allows organizations to operate while dealing with their financial situation

Former midwifery school director Susan James said it was the only bilingual program of its kind in Ontario, and is funded by a government grant and not Laurentian's budget. She said it didn't cost the university anything and, in fact, it contributed tuition to Laurentian.

James said she's heard the program was closed because enrolment is capped at 30, and it can't grow, but she wonders if there are other reasons.

She said the program has brought midwives to English, French and Indigenous women across the north since it was established in 1993.

Susan James, a former director of Laurentian University's school of midwifery in Sudbury, Ont., says she heard the program was closed because of the enrolment cap of 30. (Supplied by Susan James)

"There's lots of accomplishments that we've made, but it just feels like the university has told us none of that really matters."

Student Chantal Longobardi said the program's location in the north, and the fact it was offered in French, made it desirable for her, so she relocated to enrol.

"So there's been a lot of sacrifices to become an Indigenous midwife in Sudbury. I'm proud to be here," she said. "I love the community. I was heavily involved in the community and at LU as well. It's just a really hard time."

Longobardi said she fears Indigenous women will lose access to culturally appropriate services if the program moves to a southern location. If universities like McMaster (Hamilton) and Ryerson (Toronto) pick up the program to help students out, "that will mean we will have to hope that people from the south will take an interest in the north, and that's not usually the case."

Over the long term, Longobardi said women in the north will have less access to vital care as a result, as many graduates stay in the area to work.

Political pressure

During question period at Queen's Park on Thursday, Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West said the province needs to reverse the cuts announced at Laurentian and save programs like its school of midwifery.

"Allowing the midwifery program at Laurentian to be cut is destructive and makes no sense. It's the largest program of its kind in Canada. It's the only French school of midwifery outside of Quebec, and 100 per cent of midwifery graduates have been hired."

West said the province needs to take responsibility for the cut of the midwifery program because it's managed by the Ministry of Health, which caps enrolment to 30 students.

He shared the story of midwifery student Alison Kroes, who "moved more than 10 times for placements, completed unpaid placements and acquired significant student debt, and faced extended separation from [her] support systems." West said she now has "no clear path to graduation or registration to the profession."

On Wednesday, the province announced plans to allow the Northern Ontario School of Medicine to become its own independent, degree-granting institution.

The same is being proposed for the Université de Hearst, which is also affiliated with Laurentian.

We spoke with an associate professor and former director of the school of midwifery who says she put her heart and soul into it for more than 20 years... only to be told she's no longer needed. 10:18

With files from Kate Rutherford

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