Future of Brooks maternity clinic still in doubt heading into 2021

Women in Brooks, Alta., could soon be out of options when it comes to being able to access a dedicated maternity clinic.

The existing clinic at the Brooks Health Centre is set to close in 2021 after funding cuts.

The Palliser Primary Care Network (PCN) had been covering most of the budget for maternity clinics in Brooks and Medicine Hat but it hasn’t had an increase in its budget since 2012 and needs to cut costs.

PCNs are created through an agreement between physicians and Alberta Health Services.

Physicians in both Brooks and nearby Medicine Hat were told in March 2020 that funding for local maternity clinics would be discontinued in 2021.

Around 300 babies per year are born in Brooks.

“We are attempting to try and save it, and we’ve come up with some budget scenarios and alternative ways of delivering,” said Mayor Barry Morishita. 

But Morishita says they need AHS to be onside and says they are in a conflict when it comes to their respective views on what maternity care should look like.

A deadline is coming in January or February when new low-risk maternity patients can’t be taken on if the funding no longer exists to cover care past their due dates.

Morishita says losing the maternity clinic would have a real impact on moms and on the city.

He says it’s the most efficient way to monitor low-risk pregnancies with value added services, especially for new mothers.

Local doctors will be expected to cover the prenatal care no longer on offer at the clinic, but most doctors don’t deliver babies due to liability issues.

“It provides such a good service under the current model and at much less cost. Now what’s going to happen is it’s going to cost more because it will require a doctor’s appointment and the doctors aren’t equipped with time and, in some cases, knowledge of pre-natal care in order to provide that value-added service,” said Morishita. 

“I’m very disappointed in the short-sightedness of the decisions,” he said.

Brooks Mayor Barry Morishita says the province is being short-sighed when it comes to cost-cutting. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

There are also concerns about the future of Brooks’s operating room, where women needing emergency deliveries and C-sections can receive care.

An Ernst & Young report that AHS released mentioned closing operating rooms where they’re not being used at capacity as a cost-cutting measure, redirecting patients to other hospitals.

While the province maintains it won’t be affected by any cuts, Morishita isn’t as sure that obstetrics capacity in the city won’t be impacted.

“I’m pretty skeptical about what they are and aren’t considering when you look at some of the things happening in the health field. It’s pretty disappointing.”

The city’s mayor is also concerned about keeping doctors in town and recruiting new physicians, as well as attracting young workers to settle there with services being cut.

“When you start to lose value-added services that are in the next jurisdiction or the next town, it puts us at a disadvantage, and we already struggle with recruitment. So to take another service away is huge,” Morishita said.

“All of those things add up, and economic development is also impacted by that.”

Morishita says the city needs a solution by the end of January.

He says that’s the deadline doctors are working on and they are now hoping for what he calls a “reasonable approach” by AHS in the new year.

AHS told CBC News in October that the decision to end the service was not made by AHS, making clear it was the decision of the local Primary Care Network.

In a new emailed statement, an AHS spokesperson said:

“AHS continues to work closely with the physicians at the Family Medicine Maternity Care (FMMC) Clinics, and the Palliser Primary Care Network, to explore options for the FMMC Clinics.”

“We want to assure our pre- and post-natal patients in the Brooks and Medicine Hat area that care will continue within the community, and that low-risk obstetrical care will continue to be available through family physicians, obstetricians and midwives.”

AHS says high-risk obstetrical care will also continue to be available through the AHS Women’s and Children’s Health Program, which includes obstetrics and gynecology.

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