A midwife crisis

By Celina Ip

Tree de la Vie opened in Nov. 2015 and is currently the only midwives clinic within the region north-east of Edmonton. The clinic has clientele from 10 different communities including 20 per cent from Cold Lake and Bonnyville.

Lack of midwifery funding from Alberta Health Services has placed the Lakeland region’s only midwife centre at risk of closure.

In September, the Alberta government increased funding for midwifery services by $1.8 million to enable 400 more midwife-supported births for the fiscal year. Currently, there are already more than 1,800 women on waiting lists for midwife care in the province. While further funding is needed to support the rising waitlist, AHS recently announced that they will be maintaining the same amount of funding for the 2016/2017.

Alberta Association of Midwives (AAM) has been passionately rallying for the cause by pushing the Alberta government to increase funding in order to support the staggering number of women hoping to receive midwife care.

“The increase in the number of courses of care by 17- 18 per cent last year is not an increase in pay for midwives, it is an increase in the number of Albertans who can receive midwifery care. Even with this increase our midwives are not utilized to their full capacity,” wrote AAM in a statement on their website.

“We also continue to ask that the number of courses of care be immediately increased to allow midwives to work at their full capacity to accommodate as many of the 1,800 pregnant Albertans who are currently waiting for care as possible. Many of Alberta’s midwives are only working part-time, or even less, With the dozen students graduating this spring, our midwives can serve 3,800 pregnant Albertans who are having babies and want access to midwifery care in this fiscal year.”

The lack of funding is also putting many of the province’s midwives at risk of having to close their practices as they may not receive enough funding to support their services for the entire year. The clinics that are most at-risk are ones located in rural areas whose waitlists are not as long as the clinics located in the metropolitan cities like Edmonton and Calgary.

The St. Albert Community midwives clinic had to recently close their doors and now Lac La Biche’s Tree de la Vie clinic fears they may eventually face the same fate.

Tree de la Vie opened their doors four months ago, in Nov. 2015. The clinic is located in Plamondon and they have hospital privileges in Lac La Biche.

As the first midwives’ clinic to serve communities north-east of Edmonton, their clientele has been rapidly increasing with women coming from 10 different communities.

The clinic is run by two registered midwives, Marianne King and Chantal Gauthier-Vaillancourt.

“We get clients from Lloydminster, Vermillion, Fort McMurray, Athabasca, Cold lake, Bonnyville, St. Paul and all over the area. About 20 per cent of our clientele right now are from the Cold Lake and Bonnyville area,” said Gauthier-Vaillancourt.

Along with being passionate about their profession, King and Gauthier-Vaillancourt opened up their midwives clinic to make the service accessible and available to women in the aforementioned communities.

“Both of us know there’s definitely a need and we both are just passionate about offering that care to women in rural areas and in our home communities,” said Gauthier-Vaillancourt.

“To us it’s about making women feel most comfortable and safe during their pregnancy. Some women feel comfortable with doctors but other women would rather take a different route – that’s why we feel so passionate about being able to offer that alternative.”

Marla Haring is a Tree de la Vie client from Cold Lake who was originally going to see a doctor but eventually opted for a midwife-assisted birth. Haring was pleased by the services she received from King and Gauthier-Vaillancourt and expressed her hope that the clinic remain open to continue to serve women in the area.

“Women should have options with how they want to have their babies and seeing a typical doctor doesn’t necessarily work for everybody. I just find you get a lot more support from a midwife – with them, if I had any questions during my pregnancy I could just send them a text or call them and I would have an answer right away,” said Haring.

Prior to Tree de la Vie’s opening, many women would be traveling as far as Edmonton or Calgary to receive midwifery services.

“A lot of our out-of-town clients would be traveling regardless. If you look at Athabasca and Boyle which are about 40 minutes from us, neither of those communities has obstetrical care at all.

“Even if they wanted to have their baby at the hospital in their community, they don’t have that choice. They’d have to go to Edmonton or come to us,” said Gauthier-Vaillancourt.

Despite having just opened four months ago and experiencing notable success, Gauthier-Vaillancourt fears that the government’s lack of funding will put them at risk of closing their doors by the end of the year.

“It’s been quite stressful and overwhelming because we’ve only been around for four months and we’re just getting going. But now we’re not sure if we have funding past October,” said Gauthier-Vaillancourt.

“So even the women that are calling us with due dates that are beginning of November, we’ve kind of put those on hold because we don’t want to be in this predicament where we’re taking them into our care and then telling them I’m sorry but we can’t.

“We definitely don’t want to be committing to care if we’re not going to be in a position to do so.”

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