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Head of Peace Arch Hospital maternity ward ‘optimistic’ about department’s stability

Fraser Health reversed decision to temporarily close ward amid community backlash
A protest of about 75 people gathered at Peace Arch Hospital Thursday to show the community’s frustration with a Fraser Health decision to temporarily close the maternity ward. The decision was reversed later Thursday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

The head of Peace Arch Hospital’s maternity division said he is delighted the decision to temporarily close the maternity department at Peace Arch Hospital was reversed by Fraser Health last week.

And Dr. Semion Strovsky added that he is optimistic for the future of the maternity ward at the hospital, given that space has already been allotted for upgraded and expanded services, and recruitment of additional pediatricians is continuing.

Many in nursing staff have also expressed willingness to train or re-train to perform pediatric work to take weight off the system, he said.

“If we implemented all the organizational changes that are being looked at, and offered all the services that pediatricians can offer…it would be great – and this would be for the forseeable future,” he said.

A gap in pediatric coverage had been cited as the principal reason for the now-shelved plan to divert expectant mothers from Peace Arch Hospital to Langley Memorial for three months starting on Jan. 28.

The potential move had caused an outcry in the community and prompted an ad-hoc group of mothers and other maternity ward supporters to organize a protest outside the hospital.

Strovski said a shortage of pediatricians at the hospital is nothing new, but that it’s time that long-term planning for the maternity department is formalized.

“We don’t want this to happen again, the community doesn’t want it, the patients don’t want it, and I’m sure Fraser Health doesn’t want it,” he said.

A protest against the planned maternity ward closure had been held near Peace Arch Hospital in the morning of Jan. 20.

That afternoon Fraser Health held a media call reversing the decision, assuring the public that “expectant individuals who have pre-existing plans to deliver their babies at the hospital will be able to see those plans though with only sporadic single-day diversions and only when necessary.”

Fraser Health president and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee also confirmed a long-term commitment to pediatric care at the hospital during the call.

An “alternative payment model” – involving funding from the provincial government – has been implemented in order to increase pediatric staffing at the hospital, she said, and services are also being expanded to support a Pediatric Rapid Access Clinic there.

“We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to (see these services) continue,” she said.

The closure of the maternity ward had been announced by the health authority via news release at 5:45 p.m. on Jan. 14 . In the days following, both Fraser Health and the provincial ministry of health faced significant backlash from a variety of groups expressing fears the ‘temporary’ closure would turn out to be permanent.

During the media call, Lee emphasized that the maternity unit at Peace Arch Hospital “is fully funded and remains fully funded.”

She said that calling for a temporary diversion of maternity services to Langley was “not an easy decision,” but had ultimately been made to ensure the safety of expectant mothers and their babies.

Pediatricians are essential to the maternity process, she noted, particularly for high-risk pregnancies, and in case of birth complications.

Dr. Darren Lazare, co-program medical director of the maternal infant child youth program, said that the pediatric requirement at the hospital is currently for five full-time-equivalent positions. While seven pediatricians work at the hospital, they are not all full-time, he added.

But Lee said that, following an agreement with the pediatrics group, “scheduling has stabilized” so there was no longer need for an extended diversion.

Lazare said a “salary-type” alternative payment plan would make it more attractive, going forward, for pediatricians to work with the maternity ward.

Lee and Lazare said all partners are committed to working towards safe maternity services at Peace Arch Hospital with no disruption, while Fraser Health continues “aggressive” recruitment efforts to bring more pediatricians to the hospital.

They thanked all partner groups – and the community at large – for continued support for maternity and pediatric services at Peace Arch Hospital.

Strovski said part of the problem has been that pediatricians – other than in high-risk or complicated births – tend to be under-utilized at the hospital.

He said he believes long-term solutions for the maternity ward hinge on expanding MSP-billable pediatric services the hospital can offer.

The hospital needs a Level 1 pediatric nursery, an area where newborns can be kept for up to 24 hours for observation and the pediatric rapid access clinic which would allow babies who need urgent care after birth to be seen within a matter of days, rather than months, Strovski said.

Physical space for all these has already been allotted in the hospital, he noted.

In addition, discussions between doctors and nursing staff in anticipation of the maternity ward closure had identified some 17 nurses who would be “willing and happy to train” to provide pediatric care, he said.

“I’m sure pediatricians would be very very supportive of this, as it would allow them to enlarge the scope of their practice,” Strovski said.

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