Alberta’s maternity care system ‘unsustainable’ and in ‘crisis’: report

Watch above: Alberta’s maternity care system is in the midst of a crisis, according to a new report. Shallima Maharaj explains.

EDMONTON – A new report released Wednesday says Alberta’s maternity care system is in the midst of a crisis.

The report, put out by the Maternity Care Consumers of Alberta Network, outlines several major concerns based on the experiences of more than 1,200 individuals who were surveyed online and others who were part of focus groups.

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One concern is that the province is undergoing a baby boom and in need of more supports to help meet growing demands. Another is that not all women have the freedom to choose where, how, and with whom they give birth.

“There are no birth centres outside Edmonton and Calgary,” said Nicole Hill, a co-author of the study. “So anyone who’s looking for something outside a hospital but not necessarily a home birth, is left with nothing.

“Fort McMurray, for example, doesn’t have access to midwives that they can go to…It’s not a question of, ‘Do I get on the list? Am I going to make it? Am I going to get a spot? This is all I have.’”

There are currently 95 registered midwives in Alberta, most of whom are in urban areas. That number has more than tripled since 2009 when there were 31. Still in comparison, there were nearly 60,000 babies born in the province last year.

The study’s authors claim there is not only a shortage of midwives in the province, but doctors — a situation which affects rural Alberta the most.

In some areas new mothers looking for help breastfeeding, for instance, might wait up to seven weeks for an appointment with a lactation consultant.

“That’s not very helpful because you’re not going to be able to breastfeed in six or seven weeks without a huge amount of difficulty,” said study author Dr. Lolly de Jonge.

READ MORE: Breastfeeding still challenging for many moms

Health care professionals who were surveyed reportedly cited concerns about understaffing and being overworked.

“What happens when there’s so much strain put on the system, is that the prenatal care that women are receiving isn’t going to be as good as it could be. And that will reduce the risk around their birth,” said Jonge.

She and the study’s other two authors are calling on the premier to appoint an interdisciplinary team to develop a new maternity care strategy.

Alberta Health Services’ Dr. Francois Belanger, who had not yet seen the full report when Global News spoke to him, maintained that the province is committed to listening to women about their experience with maternity care.

He admitted that recruiting physicians to rural areas is difficult. However, he said strides are being taken to address that along with the midwife shortage.

Last year Alberta midwives and AHS reached a three-year deal, the aim of which was in part to provide expectant mothers with better access to maternity services.

“We have listened to Albertans with regards to care provided by midwives. We’ve increased our funding towards the program significantly. There are more midwives in 2014 than previously in Alberta,” Belanger said.

The biggest challenge, he believes, is Alberta’s growing population. It’s a concern shared by the study’s authors.

“I worry what’ll happen to the system if it stays the way it is and we continue growing,” said Hill. “We’re already hearing such horrible stories of women that are having births, that just, they’re not right. They’re not a birth that anyone deserves to have.”

You can read the full maternity care report here.

With files from Shallima Maharaj, Global News

© Shaw Media, 2014

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