Hopeful parents devastated as province's only fertility clinic cancels appointments

·3 min read

New Brunswick’s only fertility clinic, and one of only two in the Maritimes, has had to cancel dozens of appointments with hopeful parents since the onset of the red phase of pandemic restrictions.

The decision is part of the clinic's operational plan, the director of Moncton's Conceptia says, but patients are struggling with the emotional letdown.

“It’s already a time full of frustration, anxiety and sadness,” said Heather Bandy of Moncton, who was to start treatment this week when her appointment was cancelled.

Bandy said she and her husband have struggled with infertility issues for months. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster.”

Renee and Lucas Smith of Shemogue have also had their share of heartbreak. After difficulty conceiving, the couple became pregnant, but in November, Renee had a stillbirth, losing their son at 22 weeks.

Now, they were ready to try again.

Renee said she was scheduled to begin another round of treatment on Jan. 25, but learned new appointments were no longer being booked and many existing appointments are being cancelled.

Through social media groups of parents struggling with fertility, she learned she was far from alone.

Craig Ferguson, the clinic’s director, confirmed that the clinic has suspended many services and is seeing just three to five patients a day.

The clinic had to create a COVID-19 operational plan and provided this to the Vitalité Health Network, he said.

The clinic is operating with a goal of 25 per cent capacity while in red, he said, noting the decision was made partially because they are within a hospital building and are attempting to be “good neighbours.”

He added that the clinic is small and it is also an attempt to protect its own staff. “If one of our employees got COVID, we would have to close completely,” he said.

Bandy said many affected patients who regularly interact through a group on social media began contacting their MLAs as it became clear the clinic was cancelling appointments, hopeful they could advocate on their behalf and trigger a change. They were told the clinic was just following government rules.

While Conceptia, a not-for-profit clinic, is housed within the Dr.-Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, is not run by Vitalité or the Department of Public Health. Both Vitalité and Public Health directed all questions about the decision to the clinic.

Lucas Smith said the latest turn is heartbreaking.

“It keeps us up at night. I’m sure they know how sad this is for all of us,” he said.

“The thing that surprises me is the hospital is the safest place,” he said, noting the extensive protocols.

“If Tim Hortons is open, surely Conceptia should be [fully] open," he said. "People can make their own coffee, but some of us can’t make our own babies.”

The patients are willing to do whatever they can to keep it open, Lucas Smith said, whether that's paying more for more PPE or longer hours to space people out. To have 15 patients a day instead of five would mean 15 people actively on their way to starting a family, he said.

Ferguson said the clinic understands the devastation many are feeling. They also recognize that the reduction in services not only impacts New Brunswickers but others in the region, including patients from Prince Edward Island, who have been even further restricted from services over the last month as the island has no clinic of its own.

When asked to respond to questions from couples and women who note that clinics in hotspots across the country have continued to serve at a higher capacity even in areas of near lockdowns, he said the clinic was small, however they aren’t ruling out a shift.

“We do assess capacity every week and adapt,” he said. “Every possibility is on the table.”

Bandy said the decision is disappointing, but she is holding onto hope that change is on their radar.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal