Thunder Bay

'Hallelujah,' says northern Ontario doctor of policy change for Indigenous women giving birth away from home

A Sioux Lookout doctor says he's thrilled that Indigenous women travelling away from home to give birth, will now be able to bring a companion for support.

Dr. Joseph Dooley has been calling for the change since 1992

Baby in a tikinagan at Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre. (slmhc.on.ca)

A Sioux Lookout doctor says he's thrilled Indigenous women travelling away from home to give birth, will now be able to bring a companion for support. 

The federal government says it will now pay for someone to come with women — a policy change for which Joseph Dooley, the head of obstetrics at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, has long advocated. 

"I'd say Hallelujah, it's finally happened," said Dooley.

"We're very delighted that this is now something that's recognized as a normal part of what should be happening when women have to leave their community to have their babies."

Dr. Joseph Dooley, chief of obstetrics with the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, says he has written stacks of letters over the years arguing why the cost of travel companions for his patients should be covered. (Supplied)

Under the previous policy, Dooley said only women undergoing more risky pregnancies were eligible for someone to accompany them, despite the fact that there are known benefits to having supportive people around.   

"We know that there are better outcomes when you have proper supports," he said. "There is a health benefit, long recognized."

'It's about time'

The policy change is something Nishnawbe Aski Nation has also long called for, said deputy grand chief Jason Smallboy, who holds NAN's health portfolio.

"I was glad to hear it," he said. "It's about time." 

Deputy grand chief Jason Smallboy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, says solo travel to an urban centre for a medical appointment or treatment can be especially hard for those who do not speak English as a first language. (Philippe De Montigny/CBC)

The change is a good start he said, but there's still much more he'd like to see the government address when it comes to medical travel policies for First Nations, including allowances for travel companions for other medical procedures. 

"Just the thought of sending somebody who has never really been to an urban area on their own, you know, is pretty scary," he said, "and I've heard of situations where people just don't want to go."

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