Simcoe hospital contracts delivery ward due to nursing shortage

·4 min read

With her delivery date mere weeks away, Jillian Adams had a plan.

She intended to labour in her Simcoe home as long as possible, only making the short drive to Norfolk General Hospital at the last moment to give birth to her first child.

“And that’s easy when the hospital is five minutes away,” Adams said.

But her plan had to change after the news NGH’s delivery unit would be closing due to a lack of nurses.

What was a five-minute drive will now be a 40-minute commute to Brantford General Hospital. Adams said she would not be surprised to end up making that trip a few times.

“That’s really common with your first baby. You get sent home because you’re not far enough along,” she said.

Having to switch hospitals so close to her Oct. 8 due date has Adams feeling some nerves.

“I think I’ll be more anxious when I’m in labour to get to the hospital. It’s my first delivery and I don’t know what to expect,” she said.

“If (the hospital) was five minutes away, I could be more patient with myself and my labour.”

Norfolk General’s delivery ward closed on Monday, with obstetrical care transferred to the Brant County Healthcare System.

Hospital spokesperson Aaron Gautreau said the closure is expected to last “between 12 to 18 months.”

The move leaves Haldimand-Norfolk residents without a functioning local delivery ward for the first time since Norfolk General Hospital opened in 1925.

The hospital delivered some 350 babies last year. Expectant parents now have to choose between hospitals in Brantford, Woodstock or Hamilton.

Adams was told of the closure last Thursday by her obstetrician, but the news did not come as a surprise.

“The rumours were going around so I was prepared to hear it,” she said.

On top of sudden logistical complications, Adams said the news left her “saddened” that she would not be giving birth at her local hospital.

“My grandpa was born there, my dad was born there, and I was looking forward to giving birth there,” she said.

Hospital staff struggled with the decision to close the unit, said NGH obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Brian Ferguson.

“It's something that none of us wanted to do. Our senior leadership team tried their very best to prevent this from happening,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there is a nursing shortage crisis across Canada, including the province of Ontario. We can all agree that we have to put patient safety first.”

The nursing shortage predates the pandemic, but the challenge of responding to COVID-19 drove more burned-out nurses out of the profession, Gautreau added.

A $5,000 signing bonus offered by the hospital to attract applicants to the delivery unit was later raised to $10,000, but the shortage persisted, prompting Norfolk General to close its COVID-19 testing centre for a few weeks in August due to lack of staff.

The hospital’s interim CEO, Kim Mullins, reassured expectant parents there is a “comprehensive transition plan” in place to ensure patients would “continue to have access to high-quality prenatal care” in Brantford.

She said the hope is to reopen NGH’s delivery unit when the hospital’s staffing level “stabilizes.”

“That is our goal, and we will continue to work towards that,” Mullins said.

Norfolk Roots Midwives, a local midwifery organization whose members had recently taken shifts at NGH to help fill the gap, pledged to support their clients during the transition.

“All of our midwives have privileges at Brantford General,” the group said in a Facebook post.

“We maintain a positive working relationship with the obstetricians, nurses and midwives at BGH, which should help make those of you choosing a BGH birth feel more comfortable.”

Ferguson is Adams’ obstetrician, and while he won’t be in the room when her son is born, he is still able to treat her in Simcoe before and after the birth through an agreement with the Brant Community Healthcare System.

“That makes it easier, because I don’t have to drive out of town for my appointments,” Adams said.

She counts herself fortunate to have a car and a partner with a flexible work schedule who can take her to Brantford at a moment’s notice.

“But it’s true there are women who may not be in such a lucky position,” Adams said, noting many Haldimand-Norfolk residents already had to make a long drive to Simcoe to give birth and this closure has compounded that challenge.

Adams said she remains “very excited” about her delivery, wherever it has to happen, and is looking forward to the day when she and her husband, Ryan Heffernan, can bring their new son home.

“My first choice is Simcoe, but Brantford has a great reputation and a brand new labour and delivery ward, so there is a silver lining in the end,” she said.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator

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