No Baby Policy by Rebecca Taylor
Merritt’s lack of a maternity ward is just one example of
rural Canadians’ health care needs not being met.
For instance, Merritt citizens fundraised to purchase
two birthing beds and two incubators. Shortly after,
in 1996, the doctors decided they weren’t going to
deliver babies in Merritt anymore.
They said the
recommendations came from the British Columbia
Reproductive Care Committee; however, smaller
communities in our region, such as Ashcroft and Lytton,
still provide maternity services for ninety per cent of
their deliveries, while only ten per cent are diverted to
Kamloops for emergency care.
In Merritt, residents are forced to pay out of their own
pockets to access prenatal care and maternity services
in Kamloops. Since the ‘no baby policy’ completely
ignores the consumers of the system altogether, it has
led to a lack of quality care for women in labour at the
Nicola Valley General Hospital. This stems from the
fact that there isn’t even a protocol for women in labour.
Instead, it is left to the doctor on call to use his or her
own discretion in each case.
When you take something away there is bound to be
a void left in its place. When the ‘no baby policy’ came
into effect it left in its place new problems around a
different health care issue: safety and prevention.
My experience with the Nicola Valley General Hospital
started out when I went into premature labor. My due
date was expected to be March 4, 2001. However, I
went into labour February 19 at 3:17am. I arrived at the
hospital at around 3:40am Dr. Beckett, the doctor on
call, examined me. He told the nurse, “She’s only 3cm
dilated, send her to Kamloops.”
Both my Mom and Grandma delivered their ? rst babies
in less than four hours, and my water had already
broken. The time between my contractions was quickly
getting shorter. I told him I didn’t think I would make it
to Kamloops and asked for an ambulance. I was told
that by the time I got there it would still be at least an
hour before I went into hard labour. I demanded one
anyways. Dr. Beckett then informed me that this was
not considered an emergency, and it being the middle
of the night on a weekend, I would be responsible to
pay at least $1500. There was no way I had $1500, so my partner went to get his dad to drive us there. When
he came back Dr. Beckett sent me on my way without
re-examining me to see how my labor was progressing.
Less than halfway there I had the urge to push, so my
father in law ended up having to drive 140 kilometers
per hour in a rush to get me there. I couldn’t wear a
seatbelt and the overall experience was stressful in
itself. Within ? fteen minutes of arriving at the hospital
my daughter, Makayla Silvey, was born. If we had
been just minutes later she would have been born on
the side of the highway. This could have proven to be
deadly, because Makayla already had to stay in the
Intensive Care Unit for four days.
When the doctors announced the ‘no baby policy’,
Dr. Brockley, Chief of Medical Staff, stressed
the fact that women in labour should still come
to NVGH to see if they were ready to give birth.
At that time doctors would ensure they were not
de? nitely in labor or progressing too far to make it
unsafe for them to travel to Kamloops. This did not happen in my case, and it is obvious there needs
to be a protocol in place for this reason. It should
be addressed through group discussion where
all parties can be involved. Since women are the ones [not] receiving the care, their concerns should be
From my experience the protocol should take into
account the following: family history; race differences,
such as the statistical data that ? nds that Aboriginal
women have faster labour and deliveries than nonaboriginal
women; road conditions; whether or not the
patient has safe transportation; and a ? nal examination
on the status of labor upon leaving the hospital (if
there has been more than 10-15 minutes since the ? rst
examination). Overall safety concerns, such as whether
or not her water has broken, how hard labor is, and if
in serious pain, how this might prove to be a distraction
for the driver, should all be taken into account.
If the risks of getting to the Kamloops hospital outweigh
the risks of staying at the NVGH, then that should be
I interviewed Bette Shippam, a member of the
Ministers’ Advisory Council on Women’s Health. Like
many women’s groups, much of their energy is put into
advocacy.They ? nd it easier to focus on speci? c issues
because they have a concentrated interest. The council
is funded by the Provincial Ministry of Health, but was recently cut by Campbell’s government.
Bette said, “It was a matter of choice on the doctors’
part to not deliver babies in Merritt. The fewer babies
delivered the lower their malpractice insurance
premiums were, and they basically weren’t making any
money from it. At the time of the decision there were
“only” 120 babies delivered that year.
The main problems now, according to Bette, is that
there isn’t any discussion happening around the
issues and that the people making the decisions don’t
necessarily see how it impacts the users of the system.
To try to resolve some of these issues, the Council
hosted a forum in June of 2001. In attendance were
concerned citizens, health advocacy organizations,
women’s groups and parents.
Ironically, not one doctor from Merritt showed up to the
forum, despite the fact that they were the ones who
made the ‘no baby policy’ in the ? rst place.
Bette blamed the government for not providing enough
incentives for the doctors and said the fact that they
weren’t making any money at delivering babies was
more like a “labor of love” than an actual job.
With the new government’s “restructuring” and
“centralizing” of services, a Public Health Council is
needed even more desperately with rural communities
in charge of rural health care and policy development.
Merritt residents need to develop a process of program
reform for Nicola Valley General Hospital founded on
the principle that health care should be accessible on
an equal and affordable basis to all who need it. Isn’t
that what being a Canadian is all about?