Birth care suspension nears one-year mark

Fate of suspended services tied to delayed provincial report: NHR, activists

Nearly one year has passed since obstetric services were suspended at Flin Flon General Hospital and there are still more questions than answers about when (or if) services will return.

Since the morning of Nov. 16, 2018, expectant mothers in Flin Flon have been unable to access many obstetrical services, including birth service, in their home community.  The services were suspended following an external audit ordered by the Northern Health Region (NHR). The audit found serious issues with the service tied to insufficient staffing levels and accompanying concerns with the standard of care. 

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A decision from the NHR regarding whether or not obstetric services would be restored has been tied to the release of the Provincial Clinical Services Preventive Plan (PCSPP), currently under development by Shared Health Manitoba. Slated to be released last spring, the release date of the report was pushed back to the summer of 2019, then pushed back again. An official release date for the PCSPP is currently unknown.

“At this time, there are no further updates or changes regarding the obstetrical suspension at Flin Flon General Hospital as we continue to wait for information regarding the completion and roll-out of the PCSPP,” read a statement to The Reminder from an NHR spokesperson.

Kirsten Fritsch, co-chair of the pro-obstetrics group We Want Birth, is growing impatient with the lack of new information one year after the stoppage and the delayed release of the PCSPP.

“We still don’t have it,” she said.

“We’ve been thinking, ‘Why are we waiting for this plan? It keeps getting pushed and pushed and pushed. Just make a decision. You’re the health region.’”

Fritsch and other We Want Birth members have scheduled a march down Main Street Nov. 16, the one-year anniversary of the shutdown. We Want Birth also plans to continue advocating for restoration of Flin Flon obstetrics in the coming year. The group has produced a form letter on their Facebook page for people wishing to express concerns with obstetrics care. The group also has a petition open for signatures. Both are meant to be sent to the provincial Ministry of Health, Seniors and Active Living and health minister Cameron Friesen. Fritsch and fellow co-chair Jan Unruh each plan to reach out to Manitoba and Saskatchewan provincial legislatures and elected officials.

“It's just to bring awareness to the hardship that this has brought to our community. We're continuing to hear stories from women. One person in particular had undiagnosed gestational diabetes. When she left here and met with her obstetrician in Winnipeg, the obstetrician was like, “Hey, how have you been handling your diabetes?’ She's like, ‘I have diabetes?’” said Fritsch.

“Part of what’s happening is that we’re becoming more political than we ever have been. Part of the learning curve for our committee is learning to navigate the politics.”

Fritsch was adamant that We Want Birth is looking for a positive change. While the group has held discussions with NHR on the issue, Fritsch said the group is neither working with or against the NHR itself – the issue is with the suspension of services.

“We want to work with the province and the health authority. However, the only power we have is to bring awareness to our issue. When we’re quoted or being presented as working with them, it’s misleading in that we are not a partner in this. We are grassroots, trying to bring awareness to a very important issue that impacts our community,” she said.

“We are in that we’re opening lines of communication so we can get information to the public. In that sense, we’re working together, but in all other pieces, we’re powerless.”

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