BY CLAIRE CUDAHY
A drop in the number of local births in Red Lake has doctors urging expecting mothers to rethink their out-of-town delivery plans.
The Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital (RLMCMH) offers obstetrical services to women who are determined to be a low to moderate pregnancy risk based on a scoring system used by physicians; however, last year the hospital saw a record low of just 17 births.
“People have started to think that you can’t get good healthcare in smaller communities so you are better off leaving home and going somewhere else to be cared for,” explains Dr. Mark Polle, who has been performing obstetrical care in Red Lake for 13 years. “The evidence that we have suggests that that isn’t true. In fact, women and babies tend to do better overall if they can be given prenatal care and delivery care in their home communities where their family, friends and caregivers they know can look after them.”
Dr. Polle cites the “Joint Position Paper on Rural Maternity Care,” co-authored by organizations such as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and the Canadian Association of Perinatal and Women’s Health Nurses, as evidence that the caliber of obstetrical care you receive for low risk pregnancies at a rural or remote hospital is on par with that of a hospital based in a larger city.
“We have the [position paper] as ammunition to support continuing to provide care here in Red Lake,” explains Dr. Polle. “We work under the assumption that provided the women are not what we consider high risk – we have a list of potential complications that we can identify in advance – we can reassure them that we will provide safe and competent care for them. In many ways, they will probably do better at home than going to the big city.”
Cost is another factor to consider when choosing whether to give birth locally or out of town, according to Dr. Polle. Oftentimes women have to leave town at 37 or 38 weeks in order to avoid going into labour in Red Lake, adding extra expenses in travel and lodging, or requiring a partner to take off extra weeks of work.
Debbie Larson, Chief Nursing Officer at RLMCMH, says it’s also important to note the amount of training and education the nursing staff undergoes in order to adequately manage maternity patients.
“Nurses participate in education by attending orientation at larger hospitals with very busy obstetrics departments. Nurses attend on site workshops where they learn about obstetrical emergencies and receive hands on practice using a manikin,” she says. “The nurses and physicians have just recently attended an ALSO Course (Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics), a program offered by the College of Family Physicians of Canada.”
Dr. Andrew Johnson, a family physician based in Brampton, ON who works with the College of Family Physicians teaching the Advanced Life Support for Obstetrics course, has taught the course to local medical professionals twice in Red Lake – once in 2012 and once this past spring.
“Basically the course teaches what to do if something unexpected happens,” he explains. “So let’s say you’re managing a low risk pregnancy and a complication occurs. One of the things it teaches is how to identify that complication and how to manage it.”
Tours of the birthing facilities are available by contacting the Nursing Station at (807) 727-2231 ext. 340.