Newborns being directed to mobile clinics amid doctor shortage

A parent holds a newborn at the mobile clinic on Mumford Road on Saturday.  (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
A parent holds a newborn at the mobile clinic on Mumford Road on Saturday. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

The first visits to the doctor for some Nova Scotia newborns will be to mobile clinics, amid a shortage of health-care workers in the province.

Deirdre Smith, a registered nurse and health-services manager with Nova Scotia Health, said the "unattached newborn clinics" launched in December.

They are being run out of the mobile health clinics that launched in November to address strain on a health-care system that is leaving emergency rooms in some parts of the province beyond capacity.

Smith said extra staff are being added to these mobile clinics in the central zone – which includes Halifax, the Eastern Shore, Windsor and West Hants – so that they have capacity to see newborns who have no family doctor.

The IWK and Public Health often give referrals to the mom before the baby is born so that they can be seen by dedicated staff at the mobile clinics. Walk-ins are accepted as well. Smith said no baby is ever turned away.

Anam Khan/CBC
Anam Khan/CBC

One such clinic in Halifax saw 28 babies without a family doctor last weekend, she said. Mobile clinics across the central zone expect to see about 300 "unattached" babies by the end of March. "Unattached" refers to patients who don't have a team of family practice nurses or family physicians that will see them.

"There's a set of standard visits that need to happen after the baby is born…. Sometimes a newborn visit, a two-week followup, a one-month followup, and for the babies that are low birth weights or need assistance, even moms that need education – they need somewhere to go for that," Smith said.

"It's important for the milestones for babies, and vaccines, that we catch things very early."

Yet the number of babies without a primary care provider has tripled in the last few months, Smith said, partly due to the recent influx of new residents in the province.

The health authority set up a program two years ago to place unattached babies with a family doctor or nurse practitioner until they can find permanent care. But Smith said the volume of requests became too great.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

The number of referrals each month for unattached newborns grew from 18 in September 2021 to 62 in September 2022, she said. Currently, Nova Scotia Health has 150 such referrals.

The team hopes to expand the unattached newborn clinics across the province, she said.

About 21 mobile medical clinics are now operating in Nova Scotia, said Tara Sampalli, senior director at Nova Scotia Health. So far, they have seen around 2,500 patients.

She said 10 per cent of the visits are pediatric, which includes newborns.