Medical travel options won't accommodate pregnant mom's family plan

Yellowknife ambulance hits pedestrian at hospital

A woman in Norman Wells, N.W.T., is calling on the health department to change the way it handles medical travel for pregnant women.

Chelsey Bjornson, 24, is a month from her due date. It's her first pregnancy.

Ideally, the soon-to-be single mom would prefer to give birth in Norman Wells, where her mom, grandmother and extended family also live. However, as per the territorial health department policy, pregnant women must deliver in one of two designated birthing centres — Inuvik or Yellowknife.

Since she can't give birth at home, Bjornson would like to have her baby in Fort Smith where her dad, stepmother and brother live. She asked the territorial government to pay for her flights to and from Yellowknife — as they would for other pregnant women from remote communities. She would then foot the $800 flight to Fort Smith.

But, so far, she says she's been told no. Bjornson, a truck driver, calls the situation frustrating and stressful.

"Pregnant women in the Northwest Territories should feel like they have a choice of where they want to go," she said.

Fort Smith is actually known for its midwifery program, but Bjornson says that's not driving her decision.

"I have chosen Fort Smith because I have family there and I feel more safe and comfortable."

Shared accommodations 'absurd'

As a rule, pregnant women from the N.W.T.'s small communities are flown to birthing centres three to four weeks prior to their due date.

In Yellowknife, they stay at the Vital Abel Boarding Home, where patients are expected to share rooms. For Bjornson, being away from family is one concern; shared accommodation is another.

"I called the boarding home and asked if we got our own rooms, and they said, 'no you have to share the room with three other pregnant woman,'" she said.

Bjornson believes she also would have to share a bathroom.

"There is little to no privacy. And what if someone has a cold? Then everyone gets sick. It's absurd."

In an email, the health department said, "We can't speak to specific medical cases. To be eligible under the Medical Travel Policy, patients must travel to the nearest approved facility that is available to provide the necessary and appropriate insured health services required for the patient."

Bjornson is hopeful the health department can make an exception, since it will sometimes reassess situations on a case-by-case basis.

If and when Bjornson has a second child, she hopes there are more options for pregnant women.

"If I could give birth in Norman Wells, I would for sure stay here, but that's not an option right now," she says.

"Hopefully in the near future, once our hospital is done, but for now I have to go elsewhere."

Correction : A previous version of this story said that Bjornson called the Larga Kitikmeot boarding home in Yellowknife. In fact, it was Vital Abel Boarding Home.(Oct 19, 2017 1:00 PM)