By GILLIAN SLADE on October 17, 2020.
Alberta Health Services says the Family Medicine Maternity Clinic is not a mandated service in explanation to the announcement that it will close due to government changes and cuts.
“Obstetrics provided at the FMMC is primarily a family physician service … and is not an AHS-mandated service,” said Kerry Williamson, spokesperson for AHS.
Dr. Gerry Prince, who helped to establish the clinic 17 years ago, says if the maternity clinic is not an AHS mandated service, then Alberta is going down a slippery slope. He wonders if AHS could claim the same for the cancer clinic, diabetes clinic or geriatric clinic at the hospital.
“What does that leave for AHS, just hospital care?” said Prince.
Last month, Prince revealed that previously the Palliser Primary Care Network had covered 80 per cent of the clinic’s budget. The provincial mandate for the PCN was then changed and any funding now would have to come from AHS in order to continue.
This week, Prince says AHS notified the clinic that if it was to continue it would have to be funded by physicians.
“Rent the space, pay the utilities and pay the staff, which amounts to a lot more than we actually bill out of the clinic in a year,” said Prince.
AHS says the conditions apply to Brooks hospital, too. Funding for both will cease in March 2021. No additional funding has been given to AHS to cover what the PCN used to provide, said Williamson. AHS is exploring options for space for a maternity clinic, “which may involve a rental agreement as per real estate processes with physicians working in AHS facilities.”
Patients not registered at the maternity clinic in Medicine Hat by the end of the month will no longer have that option, said Prince. Those already working with the clinic will receive services through to when their babies are delivered.
There are eight physicians who have been working at the clinic at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital and they were unanimous in suggesting that the cost of rent and staff at the clinic would be more than they currently bill in a year.
The Family Medicine Maternity Clinic handles about half the deliveries in Medicine Hat for a total of 500 to 600 annually. This equates to up to 9,000 prenatal visits each year.
Most doctors do not deliver babies while some provide the care up to a point. But liability issues limit most prenatal care to about 20 weeks, said Prince.
He says the maternity clinic was built on an ideal model to provide streamlined efficient care to patients.
“To step back into the turmoil … is a tremendous disservice to the community.”
If Brooks loses its obstetrics care that means pregnant woman will be seeking care here and Medicine Hat will be struggling to manage local residents without a functioning maternity clinic.
A few years ago Brooks struggled to get physicians providing obstetric care and that put a big strain on Medicine Hat, said Prince.
He says the latest research shows the benefits of having a “maternity medical home” and that is what Medicine Hat has now lost. He believes AHS expects local obstetricians to assume the prenatal care no longer available at the clinic, but says that will be impossible to sustain.
He predicts issues will escalate into a full blown crisis.
“The loss of the FMMC in MH would be an unmitigated disaster, and a disservice to this community,” said one local physician on a survey online.
“We need it. It is one of the few things in the system that is working,” said another. Prenatal costs will “increase significantly” without the clinic.