The mayor of Chilliwack is requesting a meeting with B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix to express concerns about a plan to close the maternity ward at Chilliwack Hospital for an indeterminate amount of time starting later this month.
The closure is caused by an “unexpected shortfall in obstetricians,” said Jennifer Wilson, medical director for Chilliwack Hospital. Due to a medical leave, the hospital is no longer able to ensure there is an on-call obstetrician available for emergency interventions and C-sections at all times.
Fraser Health is working on a plan to address the problem, but women who expected to give birth in Chilliwack after June 24 will have to go to Abbotsford Regional Hospital instead, said Wilson. “Our goal is to be up and running again as soon as possible.”
The doctor said the decision to close the maternity ward was not made lightly and she “respects” the concerns of women who are now faced with travelling outside their community to deliver. “We are really committed to making things as safe as possible for women.”
But Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove said it is “insane” that his community of 100,000 people will not have a maternity ward this summer. On average, there is between one to two births per day at Chilliwack Hospital.
“I understand that it’s difficult (for Fraser Health), but there should have been a plan in place,” he said.
The mayor said he is asking for a meeting with the provincial health minister to discuss the situation. He has also spoken to the mayor of Hope who is worried about the health of women who will have to travel more than an hour — possibly in rush-hour or long-weekend traffic — to reach the hospital in Abbotsford.
“It’s an hour on a good day. What happens if there’s an accident?” asked Popove.
The mayor said he hasn’t been told when Fraser Health plans to reopen the maternity ward. But he has been hearing from families in his community who are worried and anxious.
Former Chilliwack mayor and B.C. Liberal MLA John Les called the closure “a kick in the head” in response to a Chilliwack Progress news story about the closure.
“This is a bloody outrage,” he said in a Facebook post.
“If implemented, this two- to three-month suspension of deliveries will become permanent,” he speculated. “This has been Fraser Health’s dream all along: centralize everything in Abbotsford.”
Wilson said the hospital plans to maintain its maternity ward and is looking for long-term solutions to the staffing problem. It is also working to address transportation concerns from women who may have trouble reaching Abbotsford.
“We have reassurances from Abbotsford … (that) they have the capacity,” she said.
But registered midwife Libby Gregg said the closure is making women “fearful” about their deliveries.
“They are really suffering,” she said, explaining that some women will lose the doctor who has cared for them through their entire pregnancy because the doctor doesn’t have hospital privileges at the Abbotsford hospital.
“These women will be in an unfamiliar situation with people they don’t know,” she said.
Gregg said an increase in stress and anxiety in the late stages of pregnancy and during delivery can have negative impacts on mothers and babies, including a possible increase in inductions and C-sections.
“The implications are huge and far-reaching.”
Gregg said Chilliwack midwives are stepping up to offer their services to women who are scrambling to find a caregiver ahead of the closure, adding “we’re here to support as many families as we can.”
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