Cautious optimism for results, local impact of clinical plan

A provincial clinical plan has some advocates hopeful but wary about the next steps for Flin Flon-based obstetrics care.

Jan Unruh and Kirsten Fritsch, co-chairs for the We Want Birth Committee, spoke as a delegation to Flin Flon city council at their Dec. 3 meeting.

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Following the release of the Provincial Clinical and Preventative Services Plan (PCPSP) by the province and clinical services group Shared Health on Nov. 29, both raised concerns about the plan and what the next steps toward obstetric care in Flin Flon may be.

“We want to show that we’re here and we’re still waiting for answers. We were supposed to receive answers through the plan in June,” said Unruh.

When provincial health minister Cameron Friesen and Indigenous and municipal relation minister Eileen Clarke came to Flin Flon earlier this year for the opening of the new Flin Flon General Hospital emergency department, they met with We Want Birth to discuss the state of Flin Flon-based obstetric care. The services were suspended in Nov. 2018 after an external audit found Flin Flon General Hospital obstetric care potentially hazardous, including gaps in service due to relying on locums.

“We understand the haphazard way of scheduling locums, we know that’s not a way to run obstetrics and that comes with risks,” said Fritsch, one of We Want Birth’s creators. The committee was formed after the suspension and is advocating for full restoration of safe obstetrics in Flin Flon. Since the suspension, mothers from Flin Flon or from northern Saskatchewan communities including Creighton, Denare Beach, Pelican Narrows or Sandy Bay have had to travel to outside communities including The Pas, Prince Albert, Saskatoon or Winnipeg for most obstetric services, including to give birth.

“[Friesen] told us it would be released at the end of May, mid-June at the latest – since they called a provincial election, it was put on the backburner,” Unruh said.

Mayor Cal Huntley, who also serves as the board chair of the NHR, said the suspension was due to potentially unsafe conditions.

“You know I wear two hats. With the level of births we have here, it makes it very hard for an obstetrician to be here delivering babies because they can’t keep their skill level up,” he said.

“We all want to have the service here if we can, but it has to be done safely.”

Since the suspension, officials with the Northern Health Region (NHR) and with the provincial government said the status of the services would depend on the results of the PCPSP. The PCPSP does not contain any explicit language about whether or not services in Flin Flon would be reinstated.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time going through it. It’s very generalized and doesn’t have any of the answers we’re looking for,” said Unruh.

Unruh was cautiously optimistic with two sections of the PCPSP – one section that lists prenatal care as a top priority for the north and another that says the province may “build up the capacity in the northern hub to increase capacity for obstetrical, pediatric and gynecological care and reduce patient travel”.

“It does seem hopeful that we might receive some good news about obstetrics being restored. There is a priority for northern care, that access to prenatal care is a top priority for the north,” Unruh said.

“If we look at those few statements, it does seem hopeful that they would restore obstetrics and that they would really focus on bringing quality care back and that reducing patient travel and enhancing quality outcomes – but as we all know, that doesn’t always translate into change.”

When asked, Huntley said he had read the report and agreed that the goals of the plan may be good for the community as presented but could end up not be rolled out as planned.

“You characterize it correctly. It’s looking a putting the appropriate services closer to people that are using them. I’ve had a peek at the plan myself and that’s correct,” Huntley said.

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