Whether or not a woman in the Eastern Fraser Valley is able to give birth at Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) appears to hover on a knife edge of uncertainty.
The Progress learned Wednesday morning that medical staff at CGH were told by the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) there would be what is referred to as a “diversion” — essentially a temporary closure — of the maternity ward, this coming less than a month after the unit was closed for two weeks.
At least one expectant mother admitted to the ward on Tuesday was told she would have to deliver her baby “elsewhere” if she needed to be induced.
Maureen Leger’s daughter is 37 weeks pregnant and she is concerned for her daughter’s safety with the current maternity situation in Chilliwack.
“My daughter has been having complications and so I don’t feel comfortable not knowing if we can even rely on the hospital in our own community,” Leger told The Progress. “Will they be open when it’s time for her to deliver? Will we be wasting time in the emergency triage?
“This is putting mothers and babies at risk as they won’t be aware and time will be wasted triaging through CGH emergency only to be sent to another hospital.”
Asked about the scheduled temporary closure of the maternity unit Wednesday morning, an FHA spokesperson responded that “closure” was the wrong word and that from time to time there are “diversions” to other hospitals.
But by 1:30 p.m., she responded that there is in fact no diversion happening this weekend.
“While diversions may be required some times when there are gaps in physician coverage, we can confirm there is no maternity diversion planned for Chilliwack General Hospital this weekend,” senior public affairs consultant Tasleem Juma said via email.
Juma did not immediately respond to questions regarding what had changed in the short period of time between medical staff being told of the diversion and its cancellation. A source suggested that FHA was pressured by someone higher up in Victoria, but this can’t be confirmed.
The issue is a serious one for the community and it again points to the shortage of on-call obstetrician-gynecologists (OB/GYN) in the Eastern Fraser Valley.
Some inside and outside the system say pressure needs to be put on the FHA to hire more obstetricians, and there is currently a job listing for a fourth OB/GYN on Indeed.com.
The advertisement states: “We are seeking a 4th colleague to join our Chilliwack OB/GYN group. We are a collegial group who work closely with an excellent family practice group and midwifery groups. Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) is a 131 bed, University of BC affiliated community hospital offering medical, surgical, obstetrics, psychiatry, and a regional eye centre, as well as 24/7 emergency services with 60,585 visits annually.”
The situation this week hearkens back to early June when expectant mothers in the Eastern Fraser Valley who had planned on delivering at CGH were told to attend Abbotsford Regional Hospital instead.
“In cases of urgent need, they should go to the emergency department nearest to them,” Fraser Health said in a press release at that time. “If the mother believes she is having complications, she should call 911.”
Local community leaders called the situation in June “unacceptable” and a “bloody outrage.”
Already on Wednesday, city councillor Chris Kloot expressed his displeasure at the maternity situation at CGH.
“Fraser Health needs to get their act together!” he Tweeted. “Once again because of poor management expectant mothers will be turned away from Chilliwack General and sent to Abbotsford.”
@Fraserhealth needs to get their act together! Once again because of poor management expectant mothers will be turned away from Chilliwack General & sent to Abbotsford. I’m calling on @adriandix to have a close look at this. Unacceptable! Maybe the board needs a shake up!
— Chris Kloot (@ChrisKloot) July 31, 2019
Typically Chilliwack has three obstetricians providing full coverage, but personal reasons led to the shortage, and from June 24 to July 9 there was only one. That situation is not sustainable from a patient care and safety perspective, according to FHA.
Because of the situation, which meant 24/7 coverage was impossible for an on-call OB/GYN, medical coverage on the maternity ward would be lacking if an emergency situation presented during a labour.