Protesters vent over suspension of South Shore midwife program

by Karen Janigan

More than 70 people braved the cold to deliver their disappointment over the suspension of midwifery services on the South Shore in front of Lunenburg West MLA Mark Furey's office Monday.

The program has been suspended since one of the two midwives is on medical leave and the other is taking some needed time off from the demanding practice that requires the miwdwives to be on call 24/7.

"We knew since the inception that it was not sustainable with two midwives", said Leslie Niblett who is a founding midwife and delivered many of the kids who joined their parents in the protest. She went on medical leave in October.

"Two midwives cannot provide the service as it should be with continuity of care, choices of a birthplace and to be on call to provide the quality of care women need and expect," Niblett said.

"We need a sustainable commitment from government for funding for four positions. As it was, we were turning away up to 10 women a month."

Furey told the protesters he will "continue to advance the dialogue" on the issue with the health minister and report back to the organizers of the protest over what steps are being contemplated about the capacity of the program.

"I'm meeting with the health minister on Wednesday to advance the concerns of the protesters."

Niblett said that the continuity of care is a hallmark in the midwifery program, with time spent one-on-one with the midwife who will deliver the baby.

Besides being able to opt for a home birth, the midwife is on call for the mother for any number of issues. This means midwives are an ideal option for special populations; About 70 to 90 per cent of the clients are single parents, poor parents and young mothers who may not be able to make it to hospital-based pre-natal clinics.

"All of the research shows the cost-benefits of using midwives is absolutely clear with consistently optimal outcomes."

Dr. Paul Newton, the head of the of obstetrics clinic at South Shore Regional Hospital was also among the protest.

"The midwives provide an essential service, as far as we're concerned," said Newton. "Lack of government support is very unfortunate."

Newton said the seven family doctors at the clinic handle about 90 per cent of the deliveries on the South Shore while the cases the midwives tend to deal with special populations who need more one-on-one support than the doctors are able to supply

"Only two midwives is not sustainable. There has to be at least three people involved in any on-call service."

Newton said after the loss of Niblett, the remaining midwife "couldn't do it physically or mentally and provide the care that clients need and expect."

Since the suspension of the midwife service the SSRH clinic has gained 21 more clients. "We struggle to cope with the ones we have, but we will be there for the new clients," said Newton.

Sara Storm, protesting the day before her due date, said she and her husband chose a midwife for the continuity of care.

"We are incredibly disappointed that won't happen," said Storm. "We had been planning for a home birth and now it will be in the hospital. We've met half the obstetricians, but maybe not the one who we'll end up with."

Protester Emma Dimmell said she is "absolutely devastated" the service has been suspended. Cradling eight-month old Gustav, she said having a home birth and the close connection with a midwife "really kept me from a deep depression and helped me get through everything really well. The 24/7 support from the midwife really was important."

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