Hay River will be the first NWT community outside of Fort Smith to receive midwifery services, according to Health and Social Services Minister Tom Beaulieu - just not for a couple of years.
The department is looking at rolling out the first stage of the territorial midwifery expansion project in the 2014-15 fiscal year, with $473,000 in initial costs expected for the Hay River program.
Following that, an ongoing cost of $270,000 per year will keep two midwives in the community.
The program is planned to coincide with construction of the community’s new health centre, which is expected to open its doors in late 2015.
That investment will be followed by a $952,000 investment in a regional midwifery program in the Beaufort Delta, starting the year after. Yellowknife shouldn’t expect a renewal of its suspended program until at least 2016-17.
In the meantime, the minister said $75,000 in federal health funding will be put to use to consult further with Hay River and the Beaufort Delta communities, as well as review the NWT Midwifery Practice Framework and Midwifery Regulations regarding operations, maintenance costing and standard development.
Other funds will go to the “stabilization” of the existing Fort Smith program in order to see more babies birthed in the community. Prior to two permanent doctors joining the Fort Smith Health Centre team this summer, around 50 per cent of mothers had to be sent to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife to give birth, Beaulieu said.
Hay River was chosen as a starting point for the expansion based on recommendations made in the March 2012 Midwifery Review report, which suggested creating other regional centres for midwifery service in the territory. Beaulieu said Hay River could potentially provide service to Fort Providence, Kakisa, Fort Resolution, K’atl’odeeche and Enterprise.
“I’m hoping that in Hay River, ultimately, there would be an expansion of that service area,” Beaulieu said. “When we build a new hospital in Hay River and we have doctors – a brand new modern health centre to attract doctors – we can provide service to a larger area. It makes more sense.”
Similarly, the Beaufort Delta program will be designed to serve that region, and perhaps others.
“Once we have a midwifery program that’s up and running, I know that some of the people from the Sahtu have received care in the Beaufort Delta Regional Hospital, so it’s possible that midwives would encompass some of the Sahtu communities,” Beaulieu said.
He said the expansion is being done incrementally, not only because the department is swamped with other priorities, but in order to work out any complications that arise along the way.
“We don’t want to rush into any of these things,” he said. “We want to be able to iron the bugs out of the system. We don’t want to put too much on our plates so that we put something shoddy out. We want to put something effective and something that the people would be comfortable using, so we don’t want to do them all at once and then realize we have too much work on our hands. That’s why we’re going to try to roll it out systematically.”
Despite criticism from Yellowknife MLA Wendy Bisaro that mothers in the capital should have access to midwifery services, Beaulieu said it doesn’t make financial sense for the department to begin where there are already birthing capabilities and support services, such as the Healthy Families program, available. He said the goal of the expansion is to make sure as many mothers, most of whom are currently forced to have their babies in Yellowknife, can give birth as close to home as possible.
“We have to make decisions that are best for the system,” he said. “We’re still more than capable of having births in Yellowknife. They already have 30 doctors to take care of the birthing situation…We’re not going to get the biggest bang for the buck by starting in Yellowknife.”
He said more details on the scope and cost of the expansion will follow next year’s consultations.