Interior Health has confirmed maternity services are being temporarily suspended at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake due to staff shortages.
“The safety issue has been paramount in our planning,” said David Matear, executive director, Interior Health West Hospitals and Communities of the reason for the decision. “We are doing everything that we can to restore the services as quickly as possible.”
In the meantime, expectant mothers across the Cariboo Chilcotin region are being forced to travel to Kamloops to have their babies in hospital.
Interior Health is meeting with Northern Health to discuss sending some women to Prince George for deliveries because that may be their preference, Matear said.
Andrea Pinette of Williams Lake is due on March 12 and was told by her doctor to get to Kamloops by the time she is 39 weeks pregnant which is on Monday, March 4.
“I am waiting for a call back today,” Pinette told Black Press Wednesday. “I know they don’t know a whole lot, but they are putting us into a hotel near the hospital.”
She has three other children and is planning to take her two-year old with her because she has no idea how long she will be away from home.
“I am kind of playing it by ear, and I am lucky I have a ton of family in town,” she added. “My doctor’s office was really good about it. It just so happens because I am approaching 39 weeks that they want me to go, and if anything happens before Kamloops I would go to the emergency or operating room here.”
Learning about the maternity nurse shortage was “a bit of shock,” Pinette said.
“I know the doctors don’t know a lot yet and everyone is kind of on standby from what I understood.”
She also said she didn’t want to alarm other expectant moms, but wanted to give them a head’s up.
It is a three-hour drive from Kamloops to Williams Lake and Matear said arrangements are being made to cover the costs of travel, lodging and meals.
Matear said there have been some recruitment challenges in Williams Lake over a period of time, and IH has been recruiting both nationally and internationally.
“We have seven nurses in a training program for specialty nurses in maternity care right now. Two of them will graduate and join Cariboo Memorial Hospital in June and the other five at the end of the year. We will have two places in the program every year thereafter,” Matear said.
“Once we get to that point, we should have resolved the recruitment challenges. There will be turnover, we recognize that, and that’s why we will have two nurses on an annual basis going through the 12-month training program.”
Matear said unexpected and recent absences in Williams Lake have created a challenge in providing ongoing 24/7 care for the maternity unit.
“We have been working with our maternity, newborn, child and youth network who has helped co-ordinate staffing across IH. Royal Inland Hospital has provided us staff periodically, but this short notice absence has created an issue where we have had to take the unfortunate decision to divert pregnant moms at this point to Kamloops.”
Matear said expectant moms will be referred between 36 and 38 weeks, according to their doctors’s directions, and then referred to GPs in Kamloops or directly to the hospital in Kamloops, depending on their risk.
“Those protocols have been worked out between Cariboo Memorial Hospital and Royal Inland Hospital. We have in the interim created a staffing model which provides us with cover so we can safely do urgent deliveries — but the challenge is the ongoing care for an inpatient as we are unable to staff the maternity unit 24/7.”
Cariboo Memorial Hospital services the Cariboo-Chilcotin region and on an annual basis more than 300 babies are born at the hospital according to Perinatal Service BC statistics.
Several expectant mothers took to social media Tuesday evening to share their concerns after they were informed they cannot give birth at their hometown hospital.
In October 2018, South Cariboo moms living in the 100 Mile House area aired similar concerns and frustrations about the lack of prenatal care in their community.
There have not been deliveries at the hospital since 2017.
A delegation from Interior Health is scheduled to attend the Cariboo Chilcotin Regional Hospital District committee of the whole meeting taking place Thursday, Feb. 28 to provide updates pertaining to the Williams Lake and 100 Mile House health services administrative area.
Cariboo Memorial Hospital is slated for a complete redevelopment, with the business plan expected to be completed in the near future at an initial estimated cost of $130 million.