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Doctor calls service cuts to Birchmount hospital in Scarborough 'unsafe'

A Scarborough Health Network decision to cut women's and children's health services at its Birchmount hospital will shortchange thousands of people, says a doctor opposed to the move.

Scarborough Health Network to close women's and children's services

Obstetrics is one service to be cut at a hospital in north Scarborough. Dr. Raymond Chan, a cardiologist who lives in the area, says a decision by the Scarborough Health Network to cut women's and children's health services at its Birchmount hospital site will shortchange thousands of residents. (paulaphoto/Shutterstock)

A Scarborough Health Network decision to cut women's and children's health services at Birchmount Hospital will affect thousands of people, says a doctor opposed to the move.

Dr. Raymond Chan, a cardiologist, said the impending closure will take away services from a population of about 200,000 people. The closure is expected to take place in the next six to 12 months.

The services to be cut will be relocated to Centenary and General hospitals, which are also part of the Scarborough Health Network.

"To put in one word, this is simply unsafe," Chan told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday.

Chan said he believes the closure at Birchmount, what's known to many as Scarborough Grace Hospital, could affect people in the midst of emergencies.

"Emergencies need immediate attention. And the people of north Scarborough simply cannot accept substandard care."

The Scarborough Health Network, however, is defending the move, saying there will continue to be an on-call pediatrician and an on-call obstetrician in Birchmount hospital's emergency department.

The move would see the two wards relocated to the Centenary and Scarborough General hospitals, each about a 15-minute drive south. (Google Maps)

Lisa Cipriano, communications officer for the Scarborough Health Network, said: "In addition, every emergency doctor knows how to deliver a baby, and all of our emergency departments are equipped with obstetric emergency delivery kits with the necessary equipment for these situations."

Cipriano said the hospital's sexual assault and domestic violence care centre will remain at Birchmount. "Plans to enhance this care at our Birchmount hospital are in development."

At its January 24 meeting, the Scarborough Health Network board of directors voted unanimously to integrate its women's and children's services, moving them from Birchmount to Centenary and General hospitals.

The services to be relocated include the labour and delivery unit, neonatal intensive care unit and in-patient pediatrics. 

Chan said the closure will mean the community of north Scarborough, east of Victoria Park Avenue and north of Highway 401, will have access to fewer medical services for women and children close to home. 

'It completely defies logic'

Chan added that the decision makes no sense to him, given that people are still using women's and children's services at the hospital. 

"It completely defies logic," he said. 

According to Chan, more than 185 physicians and midwives have signed a petition opposing the move.

A December 2018 report released by the Scarborough Health Network says there were 1,720 births at Birchmount in the 2017-2018 year. It estimates the number to drop to 1,582 in 2019-2020.

The report says Birchmount may be experiencing declining "market share of pregnancy and childbirth activity" since 2005, a drop that may be due to public perceptions of the hospital. It notes that the hospital had SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) cases in 2003 and maternal deaths in 2008.

"These issues have continued to cause damage to the sites's reputation and may have contributed to a disproportionate decrease in deliveries compared to neighbouring hospitals," it reads.

Official says network wants centres of excellence

Dr. Colette Rutherford, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Birchmount and Centenary hospital sites, said the decision was made after research was done on where patients in the area were choosing to give birth.

The board also sought medical input from doctors, midwives, nurses, patients and families, she told Metro Morning on Tuesday.

Rutherford said the closure allows for centralization of maternity and pediatric services in two hospitals, a move that will give the hospitals the ability to attract more specialists.

"We are not discontinuing services. We are optimizing the services for the over 600,000 people who live in the Scarborough area," she said. 

"We want centres of excellence. That's what our plan is."

She denied the move is unsafe, even though it may mean that pregnant women will have to travel further in order to give birth. She also denied the decision was made to save money.

"We're not going to do anything, make any move that is going to increase risk."

According to a news release, the Scarborough Health Network will create a program integration committee to plan and manage the transition process.

With files from Metro Morning, Muriel Draaisma

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