The Hope Standard has learned a letter has been sent to the BC Nurses Union (BCNU) calling the impeding “maternity unit closure … a ‘Health Hazard’ as defined in the Public Health Act.”
Because of their standing in the medical community, the letter’s sender has requested the writer not be identified, however, they are a practitioner of maternal care within the Fraser Valley.
The biggest issue, says the letter, is the planned maternity deferral from Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) to Abbotsford Regional Hospital—or other locations beyond—not only creates a possible safety risk for the women and babies who are sent traveling, but it also requires hospital staff to be put at professional risk.
After the closure was announced last week, Fraser Health maternity stakeholders and administrators met on Thursday (June 6) to discuss implementation.
In an email sent by local midwife, Amelia Doran, after that meeting, midwives in the eastern Fraser Valley were told to “think of the maternity unit as having a lock on the door when it comes to labour and birth … and that all antenatal assessments are to be done at (Abbotsford Regional Hospital)” by emergency doctors and a maternity nurse.
But, as the letter to the BCNU notes, requiring “untrained and unskilled medical staff to manage and provide care (that) is outside of their scope of practice and to not allow any planned assessments or maternity-related triaging creates a significant health hazard or all pregnant women located in (the Fraser Valley).”
And while Fraser Health has commented they only expect Abbotsford to have to deal with about two extra deliveries a day, the lack of any maternal resources at the Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) means the amount of patients will likely be much higher than two a day.
“Last week, Chilliwack’s maternity ward was overflowing,” said Natasha Oglesby, founder of Midwifery Tree in Chilliwack, a midwifery clinic serving patients from Chilliwack to Boston Bar, and all points in between. “They were on diversion for a full two days because they were overflowing.”
However, the letter states current assessment and triaging numbers at CGH maternity is averaging approximately 13 assessments and triages per day, and that creating circumstances where pregnant women are expected to travel extended distances poses an unacceptable health threat.
The solution, says the letter, is to utilize the Valley’s midwives: “Midwives are extensively trained and are regulated as outline above. We propose that having midwives on call, at deliveries in CGH as required, able to assess women and triage to to other sites as appropriate would be the safest and most practical model in the situation that we are faced with in CGH, and in the process, the nurses of CGH and Abbotsford would be protected from working outside their scope of practice.”
However, as of yet, Chilliwack hasn’t considered the use of locums or midwives to fill the need at CGH. “We can help take the pressure off of Abbotsford by allowing us to triage the women here (in Chilliwack),” Oglesby said. “We (just) want to help (however we can).”
Fraser Health has yet to set a definite timeline for the closure, but Doran’s post-meeting email says there’s no “end-date yet, but definitely for the month of July and possibly longer.”
“We have nothing firm to announce at this time,” commented Dixon Tam, a Fraser Health senior consultant in public affairs. “But we are actively working with our partners on some solutions to best support maternity patients in Chilliwack, (and) will share (those) solutions with the community as soon as they are finalized.”
The Hope Standard is continuing to follow this story and will update it as more information becomes available.