Home > No Baby Policy
Vol. 7 Issue 1

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 heard.

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 considered!

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?

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