Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre opened in February 2015. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)

Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre opened in February 2015. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)

Lack of maternity program, still a problem in Burns Lake

Community members continue to shuttle to far away locations

Burns Lake residents continue to struggle with the lack of a maternity program at the Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in the village.

On May 19, Dave Scheel’s daughter Shelby noticed cramping. Instead of getting up to go to the local hospital here in Burns Lake though, Shelby and husband, Michael had to drive to Prince George at four in the morning. The couple reached the hospital in Prince George at 6:20 a.m. and by 6:45 a.m. their daughter was born.

Had Shelby been even a few minutes late, things could’ve been very different.

“Obviously it was so close to having her [the baby] in the vehicle itself,” said Scheel.

Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre, the $55-million hospital that opened back in February 2015, brought with it hope that babies will once again be delivered in Burns Lake and soon-to-be parents won’t have to drive down the highway to other communities to have their babies.

“It causes families danger, stress, costs major money travelling back and forth for ultrasounds and check ups, not to mention hotel room expenses etc. if they end up not having the baby immediately but are unable to travel back and forth,” said Scheel.

READ MORE: Still no maternity program in Burns Lake

Lakes District News reached out to Northern Health to find out why Burns Lake community has continued to be deprived of maternity services at the local hospital despite it being equipped with a dedicated delivery room and Steve Raper, a Northern Health representative responded.

“We recognize that having expectant or pregnant mothers travel to give birth can be disruptive and inconvenient, but patient safety and the sustainability of maternity services must come first,” he said, adding that some communities face challenges providing these services – either because there are too few births for the health care team to maintain the needed skills; there are too few health care staff with the appropriate training; or clinicians are not comfortable providing services in the absence of higher care-level supports such as immediate access to emergency C-section and other potential post-partum surgical interventions, a specialised nursery for the infant, etc.

Recruiting physicians, especially those with obstetrical skills, is challenging for rural areas, he added.

In 2017, when Lakes District News had raised the same issue, Northern Health had responded with the exact same responses at that time.

Scheel, recognizing that nothing has changed over the years, is very disappointed with the lack of this basic service.

“The sad thing is now its 2021 and we have a pricey updated new hospital in our town but sadly we don’t get to use it. Instead we force our whole community and surrounding area to travel to have births,” he said.

Scheel was himself born in the Burns Lake Hospital back in 1971. Two out of his three daughters were also born in the old Burns Lake Hospital but his youngest was born in a hospital in Smithers. All his grandkids too have been born outside Burns Lake.

In the years since the hospital has been built, there however have been a few births at the hospital making it seem like it isn’t entirely impossible to have these services in the village.

On this point Raper noted that sometimes babies arrive unexpectedly and when this occurs, their physicians and staff are equipped to respond to an unplanned delivery at all NH hospitals – as has happened on average one to two times per year at Lakes District Hospital, since 2015.

”Northern Health and Lakes District Hospital are continually exploring the feasibility of, and options for, improving and enhancing services in communities such as Burns Lake. This work is ongoing, with respect to both ultrasound, and maternity services in the Lakes District,” added Raper.

The lack of maternity programs has continued to be a problem since the hospital opened back in 2015 and while the hospital came close to having an ultrasound in Burns Lake, staffing issues, the costs involved and lack of enough local demand have left the project on the shelf.

For Scheel however, someone’s life is more important than anything. One of the scariest factors according to him is the dangerous travel on the highway especially when speeding to get to a hospital in time, he said.

“This is not a little problem, it is huge, and downright ridiculous. What is it going to take? People dying on this busy small Hwy. 16 before anything is done?”

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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