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Nanaimo midwives struggle to meet demand for birth services

Expectant mothers are being turned away by Nanaimo midwives, who say they can’t meet demand for deliveries.

“We run at full capacity and we turn down a lot of women in a month…” said Amanda Emsley, a midwife with Sunflower Midwife Services. “It’s hard for us because we believe in choice and now women don’t have the choice because there’s just not enough of us.”

Nanaimo’s two midwife practices report being challenged to meet demand, an issue they say is a result of not enough midwives and limited hospital privileges. It’s one of the reasons they are among the province’s 220 registered midwives serving notice to the province they will terminate their contract this October and potentially seek job action if government can’t reach an agreement with the Midwives Association of B.C.

Ganga Jolicoeur, executive director of the association, says it was time to send a message. The organization is seeking a $3-million annual investment over five years, which would go toward support programs and a three-per cent annual wage hike meant to retain and attract B.C. midwives. It hopes to eventually see midwives assist in 35 per cent of births by 2020, up from about 18 per cent today.

The association believes midwives can help bridge a maternity care gap anticipated with a forecasted increase in births and decline of family doctors practising obstetrics. It also points to growing demand for midwifery. B.C. Vital Statistics show midwife-assisted births rose 81 per cent between 2007 and 2011. It jumped again from 4,924 assisted births in 2011 to 7,360 in 2012-13.

Areas like Nanaimo have seen more demand than supply, according to Jolicoeur, who says a key part of the proposal is increasing the number of B.C. midwives by 16 annually over the next five years.

The B.C. Ministry of Heath, however, told the News Bulletin in an e-mail that the proposals to date far exceed the mandate. It’s also “disappointed” by the notice of agreement termination, but still hopeful it can come to an agreement.

For Nanaimo midwife Sandy Pullin, recent action taken by the association isn’t about trying to get more, it’s about being heard and figuring out supports to make midwifery something people can do without burnout. She can recall one day in the past month that she’s hasn’t practised midwifery. She’s on call around the clock and working at capacity. Every month she’s turning people away, she said, adding there’s room for at least two more midwives.There are currently four midwives in Nanaimo and four who serve the city from outlying areas.

Emsley believes a solution could be more hospital privileges – only a certain number is given out.

“That’s where the bottleneck really is,” she said.

“We are not just a niche market on the side, we are something becoming a lot more mainstream and popular and times are going to have to adjust to that ... including privileges.”

B.C. midwives will consider job action this fall, but are not expected to stop deliveries.

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