Midwives, nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators from Haida Gwaii and the four remaining places in B.C. that continue to offer maternity services without local Cesarean deliveries met in Vancouver on June 15 to talk about ways to sustain the programs. (Centre for Rural Health Research/UBC)

Midwives, nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators from Haida Gwaii and the four remaining places in B.C. that continue to offer maternity services without local Cesarean deliveries met in Vancouver on June 15 to talk about ways to sustain the programs. (Centre for Rural Health Research/UBC)

Haida Gwaii joins forum on sustaining local maternity care

Only five remote places in B.C. continue to offer local maternity care without Caesarean deliveries

Haida Gwaii is one of the few remote places left in B.C. where many women don’t have to go away to have a baby.

About 50 women have pregnancies on Haida Gwaii each year, and nearly half give birth on island.

In similarly remote parts of B.C. and Canada, that’s increasingly rare — fewer and fewer remote places continue to offer a maternity program if they don’t have the relatively expensive surgical services needed to offer Caesarean deliveries.

“We now have five in the province, and that’s down from over 20 in 2000,” says Jude Kornelsen, a sociologist and co-director at UBC’s Centre for Rural Health Research.

Kornelsen works together with Dr. Stefan Grzybowski, a physician who practiced for over 10 years on Haida Gwaii, and she recently organized a symposium that included Haida Gwaii and the other four other communities on that shrinking list: Hazelton, northern Vancouver Island, Saltspring Island, and Invermere.

“They’re all kind of on the verge of sustainability,” Kornelsen said, noting that in northern Vancouver Island, just five children were born locally last year.

“I think Haida Gwaii is doing very well because of the local advocacy.”

RELATED: First babies born in new Haida Gwaii Hospital

Celina Laursen is a registered midwife who, together with fellow midwife Shannon Greenwood, is among the local advocates Kornelsen spoke about.

Another is Kerry Laidlaw, site administrator for the south-end hospital.

“He really facilitated a lot of this happening from way back, 15 years ago, when we were told we should go off island to have our babies,” Laursen said, recalling how Laidlaw organized meetings for islands women and healthcare workers to talk about the barriers to birthing here, and encouraged her to enter midwifery after she had worked for years as a doula.

“That was a really outside-the-box way of thinking, but he knew that women were just coming into the hospital anyways,” she said.

Since then, Laursen said the midwife program has been supported by a combined effort, such as recent, supplementary funding from the First Nations Health Authority, and local teams of midwives, nurses, and doctors who train on maternity care together. Laursen said she and others have also developed close working relationships with off-island obstetricians and maternity clinics to make the transition easier for women who do need to go off island.

It all means that women with uncomplicated pregnancies are well supported if they want to have a baby here.

And while Haida Gwaii has the strongest maternity program of its kind, Laursen says there is still work to do to shore it up. At the symposium, nurses, doctors, midwifes and hospital administrators discussed various ways to do that, such as funding salaried positions for midwives who often go from helping with several pregnancies one year to very few the next.

“We still have to work on keeping it sustainable,” Laursen said. “Our numbers are low, and that affects everything, including the nursing experience, the physician experience.”

Kornelsen said research into remote maternity care shows most women want to stay in their home community to give birth, and studies show that is it safe even without local Caesarean deliveries so long as there is good access to emergency transport, screening for complicated pregnancies, and support from specialists working nearby.

Asked about the decline in maternity services such as Haida Gwaii’s, Kornelsen said partly it’s because many women feel more secure giving birth where local Cesarean deliveries are available, even if they’re unlikely to need one. Without offering Cesarean deliveries, smaller communities in Canada typically retain about a third to a half of local births, compared with 80 per cent for those that can do Cesareans.

But Kornelsen said the bigger issue is that planners aren’t giving local services enough support, even if they recognize their value.

“It’s not that we’re trying to close these services actually, it’s just that we’re not supporting them enough,” she said.

Kornelsen and others would like to see more research on the health outcomes of children born locally, which often means less stress and financial costs for families since they don’t need to arrange and pay for a long stay off-island.

“I also hear a lot about cultural costs,” Kornelsen said. “The cost of not giving birth on traditional territory, for example, for some Indigenous women is quite significant.”

One elder on the central coast told Kornelsen that with all the moms leaving to have babies, there are only deaths in the hospital — as a community, she said, there is no way to close the circle.

“Those are the kinds of questions I think we need to be mindful of from a planning perspective,” she said.

“And they’re harder to quantify.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The welcome sign is the first thing new employees moving to Prince Rupert will see as they drive the road into the city. The ‘Prince Rupert - Make it Home’ employment campaign to draw people to the region was launched on Feb. 16. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Stakeholders respond to employee recruitment campaign housing ‘disconnect’

‘Prince Rupert -Make it Home’ is 5-year recruitment and retention campaign

More than 35 families received renoviction notices on Feb. 26, 2020 at Pinecrest Townhomes in Prince Rupert. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Renovictions will be tightened in proposed changes to renters laws

Rent freeze, and changes to procedures will benefit Prince Rupert tenants and landlords

Chloe and Koy are two participants in the talent show format of the 2021 annual Children's Fest to be broadcast on community television March 5th and 6th. ()Photo: supplied by Prince Rupert Special Event Society)
30th Annual Children’s Fest takes on a new format

2021 Prince Rupert Children’s Fest will feature a show of local talent

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Families on the North Coast will benefit from 70 new childcare spaces Ministry of Children and Family Development announced on March 1. Seen here are children from Growing Together Child Care Centre in Surrey. (Photo supplied by Jennifer Rice, MLA for Northcoast)
Northcoast families to benefit from new childcare spaces

62 Childcare spaces in Lax Kw’alaams and 8 in Haida Gwaii are part of Childcare BC New Spaces Fund

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

The first of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s long-range maritime patrol aircraft—the Dash-8—becomes operational. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s new De Havilland Dash-8-100 long-range surveillance air craft is capable of staying aloft for eight to 10 hours for a variety of missions up and down the B.C. coast. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
New plane will double DFO’s surveillance capacity in B.C.

The Dash-8 will fly out of Campbell River for enforcement, conservation missions

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read