Temporary closure of Peace Arch Hospital’s maternity ward exacerbates safety and mental health concerns that were already on a “critical rise” due to COVID-19, an advocate says.
Fraser Health announced on Jan. 14 that PAH’s maternity ward is to close for three months, beginning Jan. 28.
The health authority cited “pediatrician availability” as a primary concern caused by an unexpected leave. The closure is to remain in place until Fraser Health recruits a full complement of pediatricians to support maternity patients, the release said.
Fraser Health said people who have pre-existing plans to deliver at Peace Arch Hospital will now attend Langley Memorial Hospital for their deliveries.
However, The Motherhood Project owner Jen Delmaire said Fraser Health’s decision has the potential to compound issues of post traumatic stress disorder, birth trauma, and safety concerns that were already elevated due to the pandemic.
The Motherhood Project works closely with maternity clinics, midwives, doulas, physiotherapists and birthing families to support people who are pregnant, postpartum and beyond.
The pandemic has shifted how people prepare for pregnancy, Delmaire said. Expecting parents are not able to access the same level of support they once had; isolation has affected mental health; and pregnant people have had to go to their appointments by themselves or participate virtually.
“So when I think about this, I just think about the amount of high potential there is to create post traumatic stress disorder and birth trauma when there already is a heightened amount of post traumatic stress and birth trauma happening due to what we’ve been experiencing the last couple of years,” Delmaire said.
In addition, the decision poses a safety risk, Delmaire added.
“I have a number of clients who, for example, are planning to have a home birth. The reason they’re doing that is because they feel safe enough (that), if they were to need an urgent transfer to hospital, Peace Arch Hospital is just five minutes from them,” Delmaire said.
“So it changes what their birth experience looks like now if, potentially, they have to transfer somewhere further like to Langley. So not only now are they considering the risk to themselves, to their baby, but they also might not be able to have the birth experience that they are wanting.”
Fraser Health said it’s ensuring that all care providers, such as midwives and doulas, who are part of a patient’s care team will continue to be part of the patient’s delivery team at Langley Memorial Hospital.
“I have yet to have that actually confirmed,” Delmaire said. “If there’s overcrowding at Langley, what’s to say you’re going to get the treatment you need?”
Delmaire said her clients are “shocked” and “disappointed” with the Fraser Health announcement.
It’s not the first time the PAH maternity ward has shut its doors and been forced to divert expectant mothers to other nearby hospitals. Twice last summer, the hospital announced that the maternity department would close for shorter periods of time, with expectant mothers diverted to Langley Memorial Hospital.
In both those cases, the reason for closure was a result of “a temporary gap in pediatrician coverage.”
However, Delmaire said, it’s a systemic program that’s been going on for “years and years, well before the pandemic. At this hospital, specifically.”
“These women certainly deserve to have an empowered birth experience that they play an active role in choosing their care and how that rolls out and how they’re being able to birth, and those options are being taken away,” Delmaire said.