Concerns grow as Fraser Health moves to close Peace Arch Hospital maternity ward, indefinitely

·4 min read
Effective Friday, Jan. 28, Fraser Health is asking expectant mothers who have pre-existing plans to give birth at Peace Arch Hospital to attend Langley Memorial Hospital for their deliveries. (Google Street View - image credit)
Effective Friday, Jan. 28, Fraser Health is asking expectant mothers who have pre-existing plans to give birth at Peace Arch Hospital to attend Langley Memorial Hospital for their deliveries. (Google Street View - image credit)

The head of Peace Arch Hospital's maternity clinic in White Rock, B.C., says indefinitely closing the unit will create more challenges recruiting pediatricians and will have a negative impact on patient care.

On Friday, Fraser Health released a written statement saying that the hospital will close its maternity ward due to what it says is an "unexpected leave" at the facility until it "successfully recruits a full complement of pediatricians to support maternity patients."

It is asking expectant individuals who have pre-existing plans to give birth at Peace Arch Hospital to attend Langley Memorial Hospital for their deliveries, starting Friday, Jan. 28.

Dr. Semion Strovski, the head of the Peace Arch maternity clinic, says doctors, nurses and midwives are all disappointed and concerned.

"It's still going to endanger pregnant patients," Strovski told CBC's The Early Edition. "Patients not only will not be able to be delivered by their care providers, with whom they have a relationship, but they also have to drive at least 30 minutes to a different facility."

Traumatic experience

Melissa Whithall says she was supposed to give birth at Peace Arch Hospital in December but was diverted to Surrey Memorial Hospital, about 30 minutes away, while she was in active labour.

"I spent a few hours in the triage during my active labour and as soon as I was ready to push the baby out, I was put into a delivery room," Whithall told CBC News. "It was really traumatizing and devastating to be in the triage ... in that much pain."

Jen Delmaire, founder of the Motherhood Project, says Fraser Health's decision will only open the doors for more things to go wrong and traumatic birthing experiences could negatively impact the individual's mental health.

"We've seen a huge rise in perinatal mood disorders, whether that's during pregnancy or postpartum people with birth trauma," Delmaire said, "and this just opens the doors to create more of that."

The Motherhood Project works closely with maternity clinics, midwives, doulas, physiotherapists and birthing families to support people who are pregnant, postpartum and beyond.

Delmaire says the indefinite diversion also poses a safety risk.

"I have several clients of mine who would be planning for a home birth," Delmaire said. "And the reason for that is because they live very close to Peace Arch so they feel safe enough knowing they have a facility right there."

Ongoing problem

The shortage of pediatricians at Peace Arch is not a new problem, nor is it sudden, Strovski said.

"We had a meeting about three years ago with the head of pediatrics and obstetrics at Fraser Health, as well as with leadership in our hospital," he said. "The ask from Fraser Health then was that we need to have Level 1 pediatric nursery where newborn babies can go, feed and grow until they are safe to go home."

He says one of the challenges Peace Arch faces in recruiting pediatricians is that it's a smaller hospital without a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Approximately 1,000 babies a year are born at Peace Arch Hospital, he says, and he's concerned that the increase in maternity patients will impact the staff at Langley Memorial Hospital.

"They clearly felt very worried and they were thinking they may not be ready to provide good care to such a huge number of patients."

Dr. Rogan Thavararajah, board chair of the White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice, called Fraser Health's handling of the closure "disrespectful," saying the health authority did not properly consult with physicians before giving 14 days notice.

He says there are issues with pediatrics at the hospital, but they don't warrant a unit closure, one he believes will not be temporary.

"What happens when you temporarily close the unit is … our existing pediatric doctors and maternity doctors are going to leave the program, and that will mean that the closure will become permanent," he said.

In a statement, B.C.'s Ministry of Health said it and Fraser Health have been working with the pediatrician group at Peace Arch Hospital to provide more stable coverage for the community.

It also said Langley Memorial Hospital is equipped to take on diverted patients.

The temporary diversion will remain until enough pediatricians are recruited to support maternity patients at Peace Arch Hospital, the ministry said, adding that recruitment efforts are underway.

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