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WENDY ELLIOTT: Health care system seems pretty broken

Wendy Elliott. File
Wendy Elliott. File - SaltWire Network

Two days last week patients in need were turned away from the Cobequid Health Centre in Sackville. Virtually ever year at this time there are headlines because the emergency room at Valley Regional Hospital is overcrowded.

No doubt we’ve got problems in health care. I sometimes try to imagine what would the situation be like in this county if the Liberal government of the day hadn’t closed the community-built hospitals in Berwick and Wolfville back in the early 90s. Water under the bridge you say? Well, those facilities are still there.

Lately I had a conversation with a first-time expectant mother that gave me pause. Grace, not her real name, is well positioned, but concerned about a lack of information and physician resources.

I remember as a first-time expectant mom taking classes with public health nurses, which included a tour of the hospital maternity wing. We got to ask important questions and see where that new life would come into the world.

Health care cutbacks slashed those classes and replaced them with a digital portal in 2014. The Nova Scotia Health Care Authority offered online prenatal education website for new parents that continued through a baby’s first year. Recently the portal was cut due to an alleged lack of interest, but was it maintained and updated?

Worse than that Grace told me about a pregnant friend without a family doctor. She is very concerned about what will happen to her and her baby in our broken system. I remember how nervous I felt even with a more supportive medical system, so this expectant mom’s situation seems cruel.

I always considered that giving birth with a midwife in a hospital situation was the ideal, but this province has been so unwilling to really adopt a midwifery model. Almost ten years ago the government established centres for practice in Metro Halifax, Antigonish and Bridgewater. Two are currently operating, according to the Association of Nova Scotia Midwives website.

Back in 1992, Louise MacDonald was one of three Valley midwives practicing in a kind of legal limbo. The Wolfville-area midwife spoke about how the earlier trend for the medical community to deride midwives was changing.

“This may be due to the fact that noticeable numbers of family practitioners are getting out of obstetrics and community hospitals are closing. These factors add to the demand for midwives,” she said.

At the time, MacDonald, who lobbied hard, was hopeful that midwifery was about to arrive in Nova Scotia. While the practice is now legal, it has yet to be funded in the Valley or any other region outside of the few original ones.

Several years ago, Dr. Farrell Nette told me that while Kentville is the birthing centre for the western region, specialists were leaving and fewer family physicians were willing to deliver the two or three babies born every day in the region. The shift came when the province stopped funding malpractice insurance from the Canadian Medical Protective Association.
At the time, Kings County doula Dawn Hare called for midwives to be able to deliver low-risk babies and let the specialists take on the high-risk births, which makes so much sense.

Back then Leo Glavine was health minister and he made me think that the new health authority was looking at widening the perimeters for midwives across the province. That didn’t happen.
Over 30 years, MacDonald lobbied so hard for government-funded midwifery. She was aware that the return of midwifery to Atlantic Canada had moved slowly due to high health care costs in general. Meanwhile, there continues to be an awareness that most births can happen safely, without the need for medical intervention.
My father was born in a maternity home run by two sisters in Port Williams. There weren’t any hospitals in Kings County in 1920. Sometimes I think we need to go back to that model.

Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.

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