WLMH’s OBS continues erosion

With births redirected into January, at least, midwives announce exodus if “24/7 coverage” not re-started

By Mike Williscraft

While the provincial government has repeated its commitment to have all services restored to full capacity at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, problems with delays in restoring 24/7 obstetrics services (OBS) are jeopardizing that service, say local officials.

At a steering committee meeting last Wednesday, Pilar Chapman of Lincoln Community Midwives announced via an email her organization would be forced to relocate its service if OBS is not fully restored in January.

OBS had been shut down for about a year to allow for operating rooms to be renovated at WLMH, with some level of services coming back online in September. At that time, HHS officials announced OBS would not return at least until January due to nursing shortages.

Noting her group had a meeting to discuss the future, Chapman said, “It was a difficult meeting as we were faced with choices that are very hard to make.”

In the end, the group has decided that if 24/7 coverage is not re-established in January (or soon thereafter) the group of midwives is pursuing the option of working full-time at NHS (Niagara Health System).”

“The reason for this decision is that a long-term redirect is very difficult on both our clients and also the clinicians. It is not sustainable.”

Aaron Levo, HHS vice-president, communications and public affairs, said management continues to be committed to restoring all services.

“We are working to have a safe, effective resumption of obstetrical care in January. Scheduled C-sections have already resumed. A planning committee of midwives, doctors, nurses and hospital staff has been looking at every option to restore service levels as much as possible, as quickly as possible,” said Levo.

“We will continue to build up staffing levels and surgical volume, both of which are essential for 24-7 obstetrics care at WLMH.”

Local officials do not see any level of focus or movement to reach those goals, however.

“It’s very troubling that yet another service is being systematically forced away from WLMH by questionable management practices from HHS,” said Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan.

“I hope HHS will do what needs to be done to rectify the situation, get birth volumes back to normal and provide the level of care we have all come to expect at our hospital”.

Andrew Smith, chair of WLMH’s Community Advisory Committee is waiting for HHS to step up as well.

“Both the Premier [Doug] Ford and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care [Christine] Elliot have assured us that WLMH will be providing this community a full complement of health care services including 24/7 Obstetrics,” noted Smith.

“HHS executives and the senior leadership team have also committed to continuing the high-quality obstetrical services the Niagara Region has been accustomed to; earmarking $500,000 in funding for nurse training and working diligently over the past year to attain the staffing levels required to run a fully functioning 24/7 obstetrics program. At this stage, it is all about HHS execution, we haven’t seen service reductions at other HHS sites due to nursing shortages and I don’t expect to see any at WLMH.”

Tony Joosse, chair of WLMH Action Commmittee, has similar thoughts.

“I am patiently awaiting the HHS plan which we are expecting mid to late November, their finalized plan to phase in OBS for January, growing the program based on patient volume and staffing availability,” said Joosse.

“I will also be encouraging them at our Nov. 5 meeting to enroll more nurses in the training program sooner than later.”

For the midwives, they are just hoping to be able to remain at WLMH.

“We remain very committed to (West Lincoln Memorial) and the model of low risk birth that has always been a cornerstone to the model of obstetrical care at this site. We are hopeful that in the near future there will an opportunity for our return when the program can provide 24/7 coverage of OBS,” wrote Chapman.

“We cannot emphasize enough, as we have done in the past: access to surgical services around the clock, seven days a week is imperative for the survival of an obstetrical program. We remain hopeful HHS remains committed to this goal.

Like others, Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton is not happy.

“It is unacceptable that we now find ourselves here. I am asking all sides to come together to find a solution to address the need for around-the-clock, surgical services to ensure the WLMH can support a full-scope obstetrics program,” Easton said.

“To that end, I will be calling an urgent meeting as soon as possible, to ensure one is explored. We can’t wait until a new hospital is built to have these services return.”

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