Minister of Health responds to accusations that Birth Centre is a failure

Midwife shortage remains an issue, but Province says centre is a ‘recruitment tool’ for workers

  • Despite recent media opinions expressing the contrary, the Birth Centre still remains a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars, according to Manitoba minister of health Theresa Oswald. – Dylan Hewlett

  • Despite recent media opinions expressing the contrary, the Birth Centre still remains a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars, according to Manitoba minister of health Theresa Oswald. – Dylan Hewlett

  • Despite recent media opinions expressing the contrary, the Birth Centre still remains a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars, according to Manitoba minister of health Theresa Oswald. – Supplied

Amid media criticism over low usage rates during its first 15 months of operation, Manitoba minister of health Theresa Oswald is defending the city’s first midwife-run Birth Centre, arguing it gives the province a competitive edge in the race to recruit health-care workers.

“We weren’t going to wait until we had what we thought was the perfect number of midwives before we contemplated building it,” she told The Uniter last week, addressing accusations that the provincial government acted negligently when it approved plans for a $3.5-million facility with no means of staffing it to its 500-births-per-year capacity.

“It’s a fantastic recruitment tool (for midwives). That was always part of the plan.”

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority-operated and provincially funded centre, located at the intersection of St. Mary’s Road and St. Anne’s Road, performed 145 deliveries as of Feb. 18 since it began operating in December 2011.

According to Oswald, despite recent media opinions expressing the contrary, the Birth Centre still remains a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars.

The site has seen over 3,000 midwifery-related appointments since its construction, which include pre-natal and post-partum care and classes, counseling and numerous other educational programs for new mothers.

Even so, Oswald is adamant the centre will eventually maximize its operational efficiency.

“We will get to the 500 births (per-year mark),” she said, adding that as midwife-assisted births become more popular, hospitals will see the benefits of reduced pressure from non-emergency patients.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s 2012 data, Manitoba has the most midwives per capita across the provinces, with 6.5 per cent of all births performed with the assistance of a midwife - as opposed to 4.3 per cent nationwide.

The figure for Manitoba has nearly tripled in the past decade.

“The notion that, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re lagging behind (in terms of midwifery), we’re horrible compared to the rest of Canada’ - that’s just not true.”

According to Oswald, there are currently 57 midwives funded by the WRHA who operate in various locations not limited to the centre, including at hospitals and in clients’ homes.

It’s a fantastic recruitment tool (for midwives). That was always part of the plan.

Theresa Oswald, Manitoba minister of health

A media representative from the WRHA stated that there are currently eight full-time midwives working out of the birth centre facility, and that as such all regular positions have been filled save for one part-time spot.

According to Oswald, additional midwives within the WRHA’s jurisdiction still use the Birth Centre facility despite not working out of it exclusively, and as more are recruited (she notes that 11 midwives have come to the region in the past two years) it will move closer to its operational capacity.

Still, she admits there’s a lot of work ahead.

“We have more expecting moms right now who would like to have the services of a midwife than we have a supply of midwives able to meet that demand.”

“So we’re recruiting like crazy, of course.”

As for the centre’s ultimate efficacy as a midwife-magnet, only time will tell.

While Deborah Little, who has worked as a registered midwife in Victoria, B.C. for the last 24 years, isn’t planning any moves, she says word of the centre has already reached the coast in a good way.

“I’ve been following it online, and it’s exciting,” she says.

“I can definitely see that younger midwives would go for it. We’re very envious here.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 21 of The Uniter (February 28, 2013)

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