Demonstration marks one year since obstetrics suspension

It has been more than one year since obstetric services at Flin Flon General Hospital were suspended, but desire for their return has not died down.

We Want Birth, a local organization advocating for the full restoration of obstetric coverage in Flin Flon, organized a demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the suspension, marching down Main Street and to Flin Flon General Hospital Nov. 16. About three dozen people trudged through the snow to share their messages, which earned endorsements from several passers-by and drivers.

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“Lots of people were excited on the march to share their stories and discuss their concerns about the closure,” said Kirsten Fritsch, co-chair for We Want Birth.

“We had someone on our march whose baby was the last one born before the closure of obstetrics and someone else who's due in two weeks and will be going to The Pas to deliver.”

Since the morning of Nov. 16, 2018, expectant mothers in and around Flin Flon have been unable to access most obstetrical services out of Flin Flon, including birth service. 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.

NHR has specified that the obstetrics closure is a temporary suspension. The possible fate of obstetrics and other forms of medical care in Flin Flon relies on the yet to be released Provincial Clinical Services Preventive Plan (PCSPP), under development by Shared Health Manitoba. NHR officials have stated services at northern facilities, including Flin Flon, would be tied to the results of the plan. While the plan was intended to be released this spring, it has not yet been publicly released.

The suspension of services was met with outcry, as public events were hosted to discuss the situation. We Want Birth was formed in response to the closure - Fritsch, a Creighton mom who gave birth in The Pas, and Jan Unruh became co-chairs of the group.

“It just proves that the government isn't really motivated,” said Unruh about the response on the issue from the province.

“They give us one one answer and then they don't follow through. As far as for the future, I'm hopeful that service will be reinstated but I don't know.”

The demonstration was followed up by a meeting between We Want Birth members and Lindsey, joined later by The Pas MLA Amanda Lathlin and Notre Dame MLA Malaya Marcelino. Both out of town MLA’s drove to Flin Flon to hear from demonstrators. Marcelino serves as the Manitoba NDP’s critic for the status of women.

Lindsey said he had not heard any advancement on the PCSPP or when it may be announced.

“It’ll certainly be one of the things we’ll be asking when we get back into session starting next week,” he said.

“It's an important issue not just for mothers in Flin Flon, but it's an important issue for all of Flin Flon and the surrounding areas that we want to grow this area. We don't want to see cuts happening all the time. We should be expanding services at this hospital. Certainly, that report should talk about things like that, but I suspect it probably won’t.”

Along with the demonstration and meeting, the Manitoba Health Coalition (MHC) launched a social media campaign in support of fully restoring obstetric care to Flin Flon, including Facebook and Twitter posts in favour of restoring the services.

“What do you want? [To] give birth. Where do you want it? Flin Flon - now,” reads a sign held up by Gina McKay in one of the MHC’s tweets.

Looking over the past year, Fritsch said the level of community involvement on the issue of obstetrics is encouraging.

“I would say that people are still fired up about it. Lots of times, causes lose their power. I think that we're holding steady and the community has spoken. This is something that they want.”

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