Jen Mio is 38 weeks pregnant, starting to dilate and found herself outside a politician’s office protesting for better health care, leading the charge for change.
She thought she’d be relishing in her last days of pregnancy, sitting in a rocking chair, excited about giving birth to her third child but instead, she is nervous about going into labour with the uncertainty of whether or not the maternity ward at the Bulkley Valley District Hospital will be opened.
A group of people gathered outside of Stikine NDP MLA Nathan Cullen’s office in Smithers on Sept. 5 to support her and other women with upcoming due dates to try to advocate for better maternity care.
She said her doctor told her to prepare for an induction at the Terrace hospital or in Prince George if she didn’t want to deliver in the emergency department at BVDH because the maternity ward could be closed due to a staff shortage.
Northern Health said they are experiencing challenges with the availability of maternity nursing staff, particularly over the summer months. These staffing challenges have resulted in two interruptions of maternity services in September, including for two days over the Labour Day weekend, and again in recent days. Services returned to normal the morning of September 11.
“Every effort has been and continues to be made to avoid disruptions of maternity department services, including working closely with prenatal and obstetric care providers to plan scheduled deliveries around staffing availability. Smithers and area maternity providers have reached out to their patients, particularly those at higher risk, to help them plan based on their care needs and expected delivery dates. In the event of interruptions to maternity services at BVDH, prenatal patients who need emergency care should always call 9-1-1 or go to BVDH for initial assessment and arrangements to be made for safe transport, if needed,” said Northern Health in an emailed statement.
“We recognize that having expectant or pregnant mothers travel to give birth can be disruptive but patient safety must come first.”
Meanwhile, Mio was told that if she needed a C-section and there was no staff to care for her afterwards, she would have to take an ambulance to a neighbouring hospital.
“I’m either forced to wait and hope everything’s okay,” she said. “Or make a decision that I feel like my body isn’t ready for.”
Mio said she has heard countless testimonials of women with upcoming due dates who are also feeling stressed about the unknown.
“The last thing a pregnant woman needs is to be uncertain of the care they will receive or if they will receive it,” she added.
Cullen did step out of his office and talked to people about the situation.
He told The Interior News that the provincial government is pouring billions into the health care system to hire more nurses and more doctors.
“Some of those things happen quite quickly,” he said. “Some take time as you train more people. But we are seeing shortages in many, many parts of our workforce and healthcare.”
He added COVID didn’t help with a heavy impact and some people left the workforce out of fatigue.
“So, in talking to the administration, we know that they are giving advice to physicians to make sure that they’ve got plan A, plan B, and are trying to put into place every resource they can to make sure that people stay safe and only in the rare circumstances they actually have to leave the community if they’re having more [than] traditional birth complications.”
Some people at the rally called for unvaccinated nurses to be called back to work, saying that might help with the nurse shortage at the hospital.
However, Cullen said his government believes in letting the experts make that call.
“Vaccine mandates were set by the public health officer. We, as a government, I think rightly and very consistently from the beginning of COVID, allowed those decisions to be made independently by the public health experts.”