The Current

Expectant mother worries hospital staffing shortage may mean 200 km drive to give birth

Stephanie Ellis is among pregnant women in Nova Scotia who may have to travel long distances to give birth, due to staffing shortages at their nearest hospital. Their concerns coincide with a viral video from a woman saying her cancer went undiagnosed for two years because she didn't have a family doctor.

N.S. hospital says women may have to go elsewhere due to lack of anesthesiologists

The Yarmouth Regional Hospital advised last week that pregnant women may have to travel elsewhere to have their babies. (Robert Short/CBC)
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An expectant mother in Nova Scotia is nervous that she may have to drive two and a half hours to give birth, thanks to a staffing shortage at her nearest hospital.

"It's my first baby — me or my husband have no idea what to expect," said Stephanie Ellis, who lives in Yarmouth, N.S., and is due to give birth in three weeks.

Several pregnant women received letters from Yarmouth Regional Hospital last week, advising that a shortage of anesthesiologists means they might have to travel between 200 and 300 kilometres to other hospitals to have their babies.

"Just the thought of having to drive that far away in labour, with no pain management or no idea what to do if the baby is coming — it's terrifying to think about that," Ellis told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"At first they were saying that they only had anesthesiology coverage until the middle of May, and now the Nova Scotia Health Authority is saying that they do have it until the end of May," she said.

"So as long as they don't go too far over my due date, I should be OK."

The shortage coincides with a viral video posted by another woman in the province, who is living with cancer. On to her Facebook page, Inez Rudderham said the cancer she is battling went undiagnosed for two years because she didn't have a family doctor, and she was repeatedly turned away from emergency departments.

By the time her cancer was diagnosed, it was in stage three.

In her video, the 33-year-old challenged Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to meet with her.

"I dare you to take a meeting with me, and explain to me, and look into my eyes and tell me that there is no health-care crisis in my province of Nova Scotia," she said.

McNeil said Thursday that he asked the Nova Scotia Health Authority to get in contact with her, but he wouldn't commit to a meeting.

"As the premier of this province, I want to assure Nova Scotians health care is my single biggest priority. There are challenges in the system — I have always acknowledged that — but we are working hard to make improvements," he told CBC News in an emailed statement.

The Current requested an interview with McNeil, as well as the province's Minister of Health and Wellness Randy Delorey and the health authority, but no one was made available.  

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil responded to Inez Rudderham's appeal, saying in a statement that there are 'challenges in the system ... but we are working hard to make improvements.' (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Roughly 10 per cent of people in Nova Scotia do not have a family doctor, but the figure is even higher in other provinces: Alberta at 18 per cent, B.C. at 16 per cent, and Quebec at 26 per cent.

To discuss whether staffing issues in Canadian hospitals are leaving patients with nowhere to turn:

  • Stephanie Ellis, an expectant mother who lives in Yarmouth, N.S.
  • Dr. Jeannie MacGillivray, a general surgeon from Antigonish, N.S., who closed her hometown practice late last year.
  • Dr. Andrew Boozary, a primary care physician and the executive director of health and social policy with the University Health Network in Toronto.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


With files from CBC News. Produced by Jessica Linzey, Sarah-Joyce Battersby and Mary-Catherine McIntosh.

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