Kirsten Williams is a new mom of a six-week-old baby and moved to the Okanagan while pregnant.
“I was about 30 weeks pregnant; we moved down here from Prince George,” Williams told Global News.
Williams said she lucked out securing an obstetrician, but knew it would be challenging.
“It’s terrifying, like I was even asking on Facebook when I moved down here if there was anybody accepting and a lot of people were saying that there’s just so many pregnant women down here and not enough doctors.”
The shortage of doctors overall is not new but now hospitals across the Interior Health region are experiencing shortages of OBGYN (obstetrician and gynecologist) specialists, meaning some patients with higher-risk pregnancies have to be transferred to other hospitals.
“Our most significant pressures that we’ve had are in Vernon at VJH (Vernon Jubilee Hospital) and coverage in Kamloops at Royal Inland Hospital as well, ” said Dr. Douglas Smith, vice-president of medicine with the Interior Health Authority (IHA).
“Although some of our other sites are experiencing pressures as well, but not as acute as these two hospitals have over the past, I would say four to six months.”
Vernon Jubilee has already had service disruptions but IHA said it resulted in less than 10 expecting moms having to be transported to deliver elsewhere.
In Kamloops, there will be no OBGYN specialists at the hospital for several days next week.
“Right up until the last minute we continue to work with the local medical group as well as our teams and provincial partners to try and attract locums to cover the site, so sometimes that’s put in place last minute but at the present time I understand that we have three potential days not covered, that’s three consecutive days,” Smith said.
Smith emphasized that the vast majority of pregnant patients are still able to deliver at their local hospital thanks to medical teams and locum specialists.
He also stated that even if a pregnancy is deemed low risk but unexpectedly turns into a potentially high-risk delivery, there are contingency plans in place.
“The OBGYN specialists have committed to being available for obstetrical emergencies,” Smith said. “In the circumstance where a low-risk pregnancy, you know, one requires operative delivery, like a C-section, we have that in place.”
B.C.’s health minister said he’s very aware of the OBGYN shortage plaguing some Interior hospitals.
Adrian Dix attributed the problem in part to an unexpectedly growing demand for maternity care in the region.
“We went through four or five years leading into 2022 when there was really flat overall demand for maternity in the region in places like Kelowna and then we went to two years of increases of seven and 14 per cent,” Dix said.
Dix said he met with doctors in both Vernon and Kelowna earlier in the year to discuss the challenges, adding recruitment efforts are underway to fill the gaps.
“We’re working to respond to that,” Dix said.” Every time there’s a service interruption, first of all, we’re doing everything we can to avoid that and second of all, there’s a plan in place to support to people when they have to, if they were to have to go to a neighbouring hospital say from Vernon to Kelowna.”
Smith said IHA has a lot of experience in transporting patients from rural communities to larger centres for medical care for, citing instances where pregnant patients have to be transferred elsewhere to deliver, and assuring the public that safety protocols are in place.
“We’re quite focused on patient quality and safety and we have we have procedures in place to ensure the safe care of, you know, expectant mothers,” Smith said.
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